From being a teacher in California to travelling around the world on a motorbike breaking Guinness World Records, Chris Foster is a man on a mission. We caught up with Chris who chats about his experience riding across 51 CONUS National Parks in the US in 54 days, 21 hours, and 11 minutes!
Can you tell us about yourself and what inspired you to travel around the world on a motorcycle?
Starting as a small child, I always loved riding a motorcycle and have been doing so for 50+ years! Although I rode a great deal in my youth, I did not travel anywhere, except on family vacations from California to Missouri in a typical 1960s style station wagon (think Chevy Chase and the movie Vacation). After saving-up my paper-route money, I took a trip when I was around twenty years old around the perimeter of the US and was hooked. My first trip outside of North America was upon graduating college and I went to Europe for three months with my good friend, bought bikes in Germany, and road throughout western Europe, starting in Germany, all the way to the former Yugoslavia and Greece, and ending in England, covering many countries during this long trip. In all my travels, I meet the most amazing people and share our common interests of travel, culture, and language.
What was the transition like from being a Teacher/College Professor to riding around the world on a Motorbike attempting to break World Records?
Hope my boss is not reading this, but I did a lot of travelling while working as a professor – but, truly, I was allowed a lot of flexibility from my supervisors, and I am grateful for this. I took three sabbaticals (one year away from teaching) during my career, combining travel and my work as an academic – the perfect combination of working and travelling. I feel very blessed to have the time to do this – money is not really the issue as I travel very ‘close to the ground’ and do not need a lot. Time is the most valuable resource I have.
How did you feel after breaking a World Record?
Sometimes I wish I had chosen an easier record; perhaps how many marbles I could stick in my mouth as that happens in a few minutes! My event took a long time to hit all the US National Parks and a great deal of planning. But the events, scenery, cultural differences in the US (and there are plenty!), and the people all made it worth it. Now I can go back to the parks and truly enjoy them, for an extended period, without any concerns about a record.
What bike were you riding during your quest to break a Guinness World Record?
I wanted to ride a dual-sport bike so I could travel the dirt roads whenever possible and enjoy nature, including inside many of the National Parks where one is allowed to ride in the dirt. I ended up borrowing a Pan America from Harley Davidson for the trip as I was truly interested in it and was very hopeful that Harley could make a bike that could be on an even playing field with my usual BMW 1200GS ride. I was pleasantly surprised as the bike well exceeded my expectations.
Could you list out the essential items you take with you during your rides/travel and why?
This varies a great deal upon location. When I was riding in the Himalayas my essential items were quite different than that of a USA-only trip. Phone to navigate and keep in contact (with the Quad Lock mount!); all camping supplies to enjoy and connect with nature whenever possible; the usual clothing items for the extreme varied temperatures; spare food for emergency situations; water all the time; photography equipment; a medical kit that varies depending on location but does include sutures for emergencies in remote areas; and reading material.
Do you have a favourite destination or experience that you'd like to share with us?
Every new place I visit brings with it new experiences. I quite like areas with extreme nature. I am planning some return visits to the Himalayas as well as South America very soon. I have no ‘favourites’ in the sense that it is ever-changing.
What was the most difficult part of your journey?
Weather on this trip! No question. I had below freezing temperatures all the way to a 100-year record for high temperatures in Death Valley. It rained about 75% of the days – from ‘dry’ rain to tropical rain in the Florida Keys. I had hail, lightning, and rain of biblical proportions. In the final few weeks, along the west coast, and headed home to California, the weather turned into catastrophic fire storms. I was truly not ready for these daily challenges – as ‘good’ weather alluded me on most of the event.
Do you have any advice for those also wanting to solo travel around the world?
Just go! Do not over-plan things. Work can wait. It’s not that hard if you have the right mind-frame and appreciate the differences in people and culture. Learn languages along the way – even a few words makes the world of difference!
I heard you got struck by lightning when you were attempting to break the Guinness World Record. Firstly, I hope you’re okay. Tell us more about what happened!
This is a long story, but one that totally surprised me (see how I avoided the word shocked!). As a southern-Californian person, I am not very familiar with weather. As I mentioned earlier, weather was a major challenge on this trip: below freezing temperatures, hail, one of the highest temperatures ever recorded in the history of Death Valley, rain most of the days while I was riding, and extreme smoke from the fires in the western US. I was riding in Ohio on the toll-road without many exits. As the weather moved closer, I was searching for an exit and there was none. I could see and HEAR the lightning and thunder and there was rain of biblical proportions coming down. I was going very slowly (unlike all the drivers around me) and then it happened! A buzzing in my right hand, moving to my elbow, then my shoulder, and ultimately my whole body ‘buzzed’ for a brief moment. I was not sure what happened until I looked at the controls to notice the bike was 100% dead; no electrical input and it was not running (and no tail lights to alert the drivers behind me in the rain). After pulling over and waiting out the storm, I checked into the hospital. The treating physician came out after the diagnostic checks and said, “Happy Birthday and you are very lucky you were not killed” as it was my birthday – July 13th – and I was alive! I learned about the Faraday Cage and that a motorcycle does NOT have that! The only damage was burnt fingers on my left hand where I was holding on to the metal brake lever and this was not insulated. I feel VERY lucky! There were many, many more lightning storms that were striking the ground very close to my riding areas, but I tried to move into safety. Needless to say, I do not like lightning!
How was overcoming cultural and language barriers? Is there any specific moment that stood out most to you during this learning?
This question, with the cultural differences, put the biggest smile on my face! Toilets and the practice of using them changes all over the world. We have all experienced this first-hand and always develop a work-around to adapt to the ever-changing needs of relieving oneself. I recently read that less than half the people in India have a toilet. One that comes to mind immediately is that while travelling in Irian Jaya (or Papua) in Indonesia. I was staying in the highlands and asked to use a toilet. I went to a primitive toilet, which was simply a pit with two pieces of wood over the hole to place your feet. So, I went to it with my jeans and underwear wrapped around my ankles. Then I heard the cracking, and the wooden platform gave way and I started falling into the (depth unknown) pit! I grabbed on the side of the dirt, digging my hands and fingernails into the mud and avoided the fall and was able to hoist my way out. I have no idea how far down it was and how much human waste was awaiting my arrival!
Are you still in contact with anyone you’ve met? Have you made any lifelong friendships on the way?
Most certainly! That is what it is all about. When I built my house, I purposely put in an extra bedroom just for guests from afar as well as a motorcycle service area in my garage. I just finished a trip to the warm-water lagoons in Baja California, Mexico to see the annual grey whale migration with a friend I met in England, on my first trip, in 1986. What used to be postcards and letters is helped with technology these days to keep in touch – and I do my best as that connection to people is what travel is all about!
What’s next for you in 2022?
As with the rest of the world, COVID-19 has created a lot of health challenges for my world-wide friends as well as my travels. That being said, I am headed to South Africa in May for about a month and then headed to help, with what I can, in the humanitarian effort in Europe. I have never done anything like this before, but I will do what I can and lend a hand in any way possible. The world is uncertain right now and I feel like the saying, “Man Plans, God Laughs” is appropriate at this time in my future plans. I appreciate the opportunity to share my passion for travel with your readers!
To find out more about Chris’s journey, check out the World Rider Youtube Channel