Encounter: Ian Coates

Ian Coates is remarkable for many reasons, not least his incredible story-telling. Life on the road has been good to this mild-mannered mechanic from Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, who seems to let serendipity create remarkable situations.
It was 1999 when he first left his home and his wife Judith behind, to travel as a mechanic on an old 101 Land Rover expedition, carrying passengers from Johannesburg back to the UK. It was a radical change, but adventure began almost at once. Three weeks in to the trip the organiser bailed out leaving Ian to drive and guide the trip, but when they were in Kenya they failed to secure visas for Ethiopia and Sudan, so the passengers he was carrying flew home and Ian just drove back to Jo’burg on his own.
Travel in Africa had truly bitten him and what happened next rather sums him up. He called his wife and asked her to post his Honda Africa Twin out to him, promising to ride it home. He did, though it took him a year, heading first to Cape Agulas before zig-zagging his way through the African continent and sailing from Egypt to Cyprus and then Greece.
He stayed in Hebden Bridge for a cuppa and then shipped his bike to Australia, riding everywhere, including Tasmania, before heading to New Zealand and then Argentina. A meandering trail led him through every country in South America before he began Caribbean island hopping and this is where things took a dramatic turn. While in Trinidad and Tobago he met the owners of a 150’ sailing ship en route to New Zealand. He secured a lift to Panama and, he hoped, through the Canal, but he got on well with the small crew and they were without a mechanic/engineer so he stayed on board, visiting all the Pacific islands!

Of course he still wanted to get to Panama, so after a little longer in New Zealand he flew the bike back there and began the second leg of his Americas journey, ending up in Prudhoe Bay Alaska 6 years after leaving Ushuaia TDF. Winding his way back down south he eventually shipped from Seattle to Vladivostock for the ride home across Asia to Yorkshire. It all sounds impressive, the trip we’d all like to do, but it took him an incredible 13 years and much of the route was decided by circumstance. For example his entry into Kazahkstan was refused in 2010 as his passport had only a few months left to run so his simple question to the UK Embassy in Moscow was ‘where’s the nearest country I don’t need a visa for?’ With 5 days remaining on his Russian visa he destroyed a rear tyre blasting on terrible roads to get to the Ukraine. In a similar way an accident in Mexico led him to head straight to Mississippi for rest and repairs with a friend he’d previously met.
His wife Judith seems to have dealt well with his absence and she has flown out to meet him seven times in various places, usually carrying spare motorcycle parts as her luggage allowance. At well over 300,000kms his Honda has needed a few, though the bike is a part of him now and he’ll be using it again in April 2016 when he’s due to set off for a ‘bit of a ride’ around Russia, Mongolia, Nepal and India. He’s now in his seventies and with a repaired hip, but a ‘bit of a ride’ could mean anything…

Paddy Tyson
issue 12