Encounter: Peter and Kay Forwood

To travel around the world literally means, for many, a circumnavigation: perhaps remaining in the Northern Hemisphere, combining the maximum unidirectional land route with the minimum shipping inconvenience. Perhaps north-south through the Americas and Africa before heading toward the Antipodes, but that, even with substantial resources of time and means, will only ever permit the exploration of a handful of the countries on earth.

The United Nations recognised 193 separate countries before the recent creation of South Sudan, but that of course didn’t include semi-autonomous countries or self-governing Territories, which would bring the figure to 245. To further include regions with strong independent identity or semi autonomy, like Scotland, the Basque Country or Palestine, the number would not only be higher, but dynamic, as political campaigns ebb and flow.

This little statistical compendium may not be relevant to many travellers, but if you happen to discover, almost by accident, that you’ve visited 143 countries on a single vehicle, trying to reach another 50 seems almost logical.

Peter and Kay Forwood bought their 1340cc Harley Davidson Electra Glide in 1994 with the intention of engaging in a little light touring in their native Australia. They were veteran backpackers, both solo and with their children, but in 1996 they decided to see what it would be like to take the bike overseas because they were, to quote “sick of waiting for buses.” The Harley is not, however, the ideal machine of choice for concerted overland travel, with its huge weight and low ground clearance, so the idea was just for a short foray into neighbouring Indonesia.

13 years and 335,000 miles later they had visited all 193 countries on the same, slightly battered, but stunningly reliable Harley. That sentence is as easy to read as it is to type, but the experience for the Peter and Kay has been anything but easy. Rewarding, yes. Exhilarating, definitely. But easy?

It was prior to the H-D 100th Anniversary celebrations in 2003, that the Forwoods realised they had already explored 143 Nations and, planning to make it to Milwaukee for the party, thought they might just see how many more were en route. Interestingly they aren’t rich, but they are determined and they have undertaken many tasks to sustain the journey.

In the early days, and when the children had gone to University, Kay couldn’t always accompany Peter, so would fly out to meet him in various places, work and other family commitments permitting. Together they slowly transformed themselves from tourists to someone undertaking ‘the Big Trip’, to travellers; a wholly self-sufficient camping lifestyle, but one involving periodic visits home for a holiday. As a rule they attempt to spend two months in every year with family.

The whole experience has rather taken on a life of its own and has now seen them ride to the most northerly and southerly points on all the continents except Antarctica, to the highest and lowest motorable points on the globe and through every imaginable weather and terrain.

They have experienced innumerable unscheduled dismounts, but the bike with its huge running boards, crash-bars and luggage, can’t actually tip over very far, so is easy to right. Remarkably they have only been towed four times; twice when a drive belt snapped, once when the oil pump failed and once when a camshaft follower broke. The original engine actually visited all 193 countries, but since they haven’t stopped travelling, they are now using a replacement unit as the bike nears 400,000 miles.

They have ridden in North Korea under heavy military escort, in war zones, like DRC and Iraq and on island paradises like Male in the Maldives where they were issued with registration plate 0000.
Their exploration of the available seven-kilometre road network, was accompanied by Police and Government Transport Dept officials. The exercise had to be conducted in the early hours to ensure the minimum disruption to other road users, and took over a week to arrange, after they arrived in the country by boat, unannounced. Their 0000 plate was, not surprisingly, the first one issued.

After an unsuccessful three week wait in Kuwait for a Saudi transit visa that was never to arrive, they convinced a Harley dealer in Bahrain to trailer the bike through Saudi, but while there they met a Saudi Prince with a love of motorcycles and were immediately granted a three-month multiple-entry visa. Buoyed by their good fortune they decided to cross into Africa from the Yemen to Djibouti . . .

This extraordinary couple’s continuing journey can be followed through horizonsunlimited.com. Although they met Overland in Ireland earlier in the year, they are riding the Americas now, but they and their über-touring Harley will be making their way to South Sudan soon, no doubt.

Photo: Merv Colton

This article first appeared in Issue 2 of Overland Magazine.