This is a book about the inappropriate use of a toothbrush.
In its pages you will find vivid descriptions of wanton abuse of former postal equipment, being diverted from the Nürburgring, and the author being denied access to Iran. Several articles of motorcycle equipment and clothing were harmed during the writing of this book.
It has all the classics – love found, love lost. Motorcycles big and small (mostly small). It has sleepless nights in a cheap tent in the jungle, and a man constantly in contact with others, yet alone with a motorcycle that becomes more than just a machine.
But in the end, what it really is about, is a man named Nathan Milward, and a motorcycle named Dot.
Dorothy (Dot to her friends) is a 105 cc Honda CT110, a former Australian Postal Service bike, who is in many ways is both the unsung and sung heroine of the story, the motorcycle personification of the little engine that could. Nathan (at the time of the events in the book) was an Englishman, born near Mansfield. In his late 20’s at the time of the events in the book, he was using his master’s degree in business to work on a car magazine named MOTOR – a job, which did not require a master’s in business.
I first was introduced to Nathan on an internet forum called “ADVrider.com” – a website dedicated to ride reports from all over the world, for the most part on big-bore adventure bikes with well-seasoned riders. His ride report however, was simply titled Sydney to London on a 105cc named Dot.
The ride report itself caught my attention – partly just from the premise of such a small bike on such a large journey – and partly from the scatterings of anecdote and pictures from Nathan sent every few days during the several months of his trip.
Part observation of the differences in cultures along the way, part Three Stooges and self-effacing stories of wrong turns and mistakes made, you couldn’t help but watch for the next snippet of the ongoing story.
And then the story ended with his arrival in London, his building of a small shed to house Dot and a laptop for him to write up his experiences into a book detailing his adventure.
Back to the beginning
The book itself starts with an expiring Australian visa, and a relationship that is in flux. Nathan has a choice to fly back to London, or try to find a way to stay and make things work. So of course, he chooses to drive back on a used and abused Honda.
It’s an impulse decision, and that is something that frames most of the trip – reacting to events without a whole lot of planning.
Routes are only roughly sketched out, equipment is mostly improvised, and before you know what is going on, you are on a 64,000 km journey across a multitude of countries and cultures.
Which brings us to the other main character in the book – Dorothy (a.k.a. Dot). Dot is a “Postie” bike – one of the machines made for the Australian postal service and sold to the general public after reaching 20,000 km or so on the odometer.
As many who have had experience with the CT lineup will know, it is a tough machine. It’s mechanically simple and parts are either easily available or adapted from other bikes. Speed and size are the two weak points, but as Nathan and Dot prove, traveling the world isn’t a race, it’s a marathon.
It’s also an education apparently. While a book like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance looks inward, Nathan spends his time bouncing back and forth between introspection and observation of the world around him.From culture clash, to his own biases, from challenging common perceptions of places, people and things – there aren’t many viewpoints that aren’t dragged out, re-examined and then changed.
What this book isn’t is a “How to” guide. Unless your plan is to just say “Screw it” and go, there isn’t a whole lot of planning tips on how to do this type of trip. (Though you will pick up the odd bit of “Don’t do it this way” advice).
It does go to prove that you don’t need a huge adventure bike, a team handling the details of paperwork and shipping, and a support staff standing by to accomplish a truly epic journey however.
And the spontaneous character of the journey is an inspiration to me, if on a much smaller scale. I’ve learned that some of the best trips start with a full gas tank, a rough concept of direction, and a few things shoved hastily into a dufflebag.
Which is evidently a lesson still held dearly by both Nathan and Dot, as at the time of the writing of this article he’s repeating the whole thing again … but this time traveling across, through, and generally all around the United States.
He crossed the continental U.S. last year, and this spring, he’s aiming for Alaska. Still impromptu, spur of the moment. Still on Dot, now freshly rebuilt and back in mechanical shape. Even shiny, in that slightly battered CT kind of way.
Nathan’s book (both print and kindle versions) can be found on his webpage here.
Interview with Nathan Millward
Jamie actually had a chance to interview Nathan by e-mail, and here’s the result!
Tell us about yourself – who is Nathan Millward?
I’m just a regular guy who went to school, didn’t know what to do after and drifted from career to career until, at the age of 27, I ended up in Australia chasing a girl. When that went sour I decided rather than fly home, I would try and ride a motorbike home to England.
What is your history with motorcycles?
As children, me and my brother used to motocross, something I was never so good at. He was better. Then at the age of sixteen I got my first road bike, a Kawasaki AR50 with Micron exhaust, good for 50 mph. At the age of seventeen I upgraded to a Yamaha TZR125, which would hit almost 100 mph. I sold that a few years later and didn’t ride again for almost another ten years. It was in Australia that I bought an old Honda CT110 to get around Sydney on, the bike I’d ultimately try and ride half way across the world.
Tell us about your trip. To start with (even though you cover this in your book and elsewhere online) – it has to be asked, why a Honda CT110?
The trip was a simple response to a circumstance I’d found myself in. I had no other place to be, no job to start, no kids, no wife, no mortgage. I was in Australia. I had to get home to England and was in no real rush to get there.
I felt I needed a challenge, to prove something to myself, and maybe to other people as well, so I hopped on the bike and started riding. Nine months, 23,000 miles and eighteen countries later I arrived in England. It was a trip with no planning, no preparation or proper equipment, just a real desire/necessity to do it. And to finish it.
Your ride became something of a phenomena on ADVrider.com – did this come as something of a surprise?
It did a bit. Though I guess I knew I was doing something with enough novelty to get people’s attention. And it was fun taking them along for the ride. They were a real big part of it, ‘cause on the road it can get quite lonely, so to have a place to check in and get some positive support really helped me through some real difficult times, like when I was in India feeling bummed out with the mid-way blues.
How much of a role during the trip did social media and internet play? Were you aware of the attention on a day to day basis?
It became a big factor, almost too big a factor. And that’s something I always stress to people planning their own adventures. Sure, it’s nice to keep people informed through a blog or ride report, but don’t let it get to the point at which it detracts from the adventure itself, which it can so easily do. Have the adventure, then write about it, is perhaps the best way to go. But do what you feel’s best.
From mismatched gloves, improvised equipment, and from your own reports a minimum of prior research you accomplished a trip that quite a few would balk at with a full support team. Did this change the experience? Would you do things differently now, and if so how?
Looking back I don’t know how I did it, how I found the drive and the energy to just keep on pushing for nine months straight. I was possessed by something, and I was ferocious in getting to where I was going. Nothing was going to stop me. And I’m still not sure where that strength came from. A touch of desperation I guess, as though I had to make England or else I would have completely failed. So in a way, it was an all or nothing trip.
You had quite a variety of interactions while on your trip – from the generosity of the Bigzoners, or the gentleman who gave you the salmon coloured rainsuit, to the panhandlers and schemers such as the bribe seekers or the situation after having been ferried across the water.
Has any of this changed how you view people in general?
Not really. I guess you start out apprehensive and nervous. You run through all sorts of horrendous scenarios about how it might all end up. But once you get out there you soon realise people are people, wherever you are.
So most are warm and friendly, some you have to be careful of. Some you can trust. Some you can’t. But that’s something you learn, and get in tune with. I guess you soon find yourself with a heightened sense of awareness for the people around you, especially when travelling alone, as no one’s there to watch your back.
What was your most memorable encounter during the trip?
Camping wild the first night. I’d come through Australia staying on designated camp sites. I’d come through most of Indonesia staying in cheap dirty motels. But then in Sumatra – the top island of Indonesia – I finally pulled off the road, in to a remote field, finding a disused wicker canopy and laying the bike down so it couldn’t be seen from the road.
Putting the tent up when it got dark, and just laying there, hearing the noises, reaching for the knife. Sleeping one night open and waking in a field overlooking this gorgeous Indonesian valley. After that I realized I carried my home on my back.
What was your biggest hurdle to overcome?
Just setting off. I mean, you come up with that many excuses and reasons why you can’t and shouldn’t do these things. And to be honest I was just as guilty at letting them put me off as anyone else, and I would probably have talked about doing a trip like this until my deathbed. But then that moment came when it was a case of do it now, or don’t do it all. And so I took a big step, fell off the cliff and hoped I could fly. And I sort of did.
What was your favourite country? (or town, place, sight, etc)
The Australian Outback is a mesmerizing place and I’ll always remember riding across it, doing 45 mph, hitting the road before sunrise and watching as it filled the rear view mirror as it slowly came over the horizon.
Then for hour after hour I ride this desolate road, hardly anyone else on it – maybe three oncoming cars an hour – until you arrive at a homestead where you’d get fuel and food and talk to the other travelers about this incredible place you were passing through. A spectacular place.
What do you regret most from your trip? Regret least?
I don’t regret anything, nor about the trip or in life. It doesn’t pay to. Though I certainly fear regret, and in turn use this fear as motivation for doing things such as this. I mean, I hate it when people say I wish they’d done this, they wish they’d done that. The thought of getting old and being like that terrifies me. So yeah, the fear of regret helps me avoid regret, if that makes sense.
Your ride almost seems (from your description in the book) to be half therapy – going from dissatisfaction at the way things had gone in Australia to a greater amount of self knowledge and confidence after completing it. How do you feel this experience changed you?
I don’t think it’s changed me. I think it’s just made me more aware of who I am and who I’m not. In the ‘real’ world you’ve got so much distraction to help you avoid looking at yourself too closely, but out on the road there’s nowhere to hide, so it’s quite confronting, and challenging, because you’re seeing yourself, warts and all, and that takes some getting used to.
Also, being honest, the completion of the adventure scared me a bit, because I thought well if I can do this, then what else can I do? What else should I do? And so you’ve opened up this whole new world of opportunity where the only limitation to achieving it all is you yourself. And that scared me for a while. Because you can’t blame anyone else.
Going through so many countries where you didn’t speak the language – did you run into any problems communicating? Was there any moments where you just couldn’t get something across to someone?
No not really. You soon learn how to communicate with your hands and through body language. And for me this was the parts I enjoyed most, like stopping for breakfast in a random Indonesian village, being surrounded by locals and trying to explain who you were and where you’d come from.
I guess sometimes you’d like to be able to find out more about their cultures and customs, their religions, their politics, but the reality is you can never learn the language of all the countries you’re going to pass through, and you soon learn ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the local language goes a mighty long way.
At the end of your trip, you more or less moved into a shed in your parent’s garden to write your book – going from the roof of the world surrounding you to a small wooden structure in the back yard. Did you need time to process, to write about what you had gone through and seen?
Yeah, I think it would have beneficial to have had a time period to reflect and make sense of it all before even attempting to try and put the story on page. But that’s not how it worked out so I just had to do the best I could and I think, if nothing else, the end result was a very raw and honest account of those nine months on the road and how I came to be on it. So in a way I think the book benefited from being written in the aftermath of it all. It better captures the chaos…
Tell us about Dorothy. Over the course of this trip, it seemed she went from metal and plastic to something more – how do you feel about her?
Having now rebuilt her I have to concede she’s just an assembly of nuts and bolts, albeit a very well made assembly. On the trip however I really did see her as my companion and friend. I’d talk to her as I rode, give her her own Facebook page, take a thousand pictures of her, you know, the usual stuff. I guess at the end of the day, the bike’s the only ‘thing’ you’re sharing this crazy experience with, so you’re bound to build up a common bond. Even my mum calls her one of the family…
Was there anything you wish Dot had during the trip?
A bit more speed at times, but other than that what else could you ask for? Here’s a bike that did 23,000 miles, needed only a new front sprocket, started first time every morning and did 100 mpg.
Some people might see it as a novelty bike, but for me no other bike could have done that trip like she did it, even Joe, the owner of the bike shop where I got her from said there was something about her, that she was a special bike. And I’d be inclined to agree.
Was there anything on Dot you were grateful for, that you didn’t think was important at the start of your trip?
Interchangeable front and rear tyres helped a lot. It meant I only had to carry one spare. Also she could carry a lot of weight without affecting the power (not much to begin with) or handling too much.
What is the best feature of a Honda CT110 postie bike?
Just the fact it’d start first time every morning. I just don’t get this growing trend for increased complexity on ‘adventure bikes’. I mean, I met a guy in Pakistan who was travelling the world on GS1200. He said if he had any real problem with it then that was it, trip over. He’d have to ship the bike home. I finished my trip with the sump plug held in with a toothbrush, the suspension tied together with a shoelace. But that was the beauty of the CT. If was tough, but when it broke you could fix it with tape and cable ties.
The worst feature?
None really. A little more speed would have been useful at times, but to be honest, at 40 mph you can’t help but be immersed in your surroundings. It gives you time to look around, and see things, and meet people by the side of the road who normally you’d just blast past.
It always puts you in an interesting mental zone. I think of it like chopping wood; it might take a while but as long as you keep swinging that axe you’ll get to the end of the pile soon enough.
Is Dorothy on the road now? Where are you riding her?
Me and Dorothy are currently riding across America. We started in Manhattan and are heading west, hoping to hit San Francisco on a budget of $500. Or thereabouts. So far it’s been fun, though the distance feels a lot bigger for real than it looks on the map. But it’s been fun, I’ve seen a lot, and having to take the back roads means I’ve seen all sides of America, the good and the bad. Not sure where we’ll ride next. Maybe nowhere. I think we’ve ridden far enough…
Will future rides be on Dorothy, or will another bike purchase be in your future?
Who knows. I think it can be easy to let the bike dictate the journey, and that’s perhaps the wrong way around. Coming across America I think how cool it’d be to have a bike on which you could get to places quicker, instead of having to miss out on places because of the time it’d take to detour. But who knows, maybe I’ll do the next trip in a car with a bunch of mates. That sounds more fun than more time on a motorbike riding the lonely road.
Do you see impulse taking hold again, and do you think the future has any more surprises coming from Nathan and Dot?
Maybe. But if I knew now what the next adventure was going to be then it wouldn’t be a surprise. And I like to surprise myself as much as I do anyone else. And to be honest, you can’t plan adventure, you just have to live it.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I hope one day these adventures get me laid.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.