Jay Kannaiyan has successfully completed his 33 country ride on the Suzuki DR650. Biker BT in conversation.
 

 
Riding through 33 countries...
At the equator in Uganda.
   
 

1) You have been riding much before this mega trip and have done lot of rides, but did you ever dream of a round the world trip before ? When can you say this idea struck you?

When I was kid at boarding school in Kodaikanal, one of my seniors and his father rode a black Triumph motorcycle from London to Delhi to raise funds for their deaf foundation. They presented about their trip and I guess it struck a chord with me deep down inside. Many years later when I was in my first job in Chicago, I started touring on motorcycles and it slowly dawned on me that perhaps I, too, could make a long overland journey someday. I got on to motorcycle forums like ADVrider.com and HorizonsUnlimited.com and enjoyed the present day stories of motorcyclists traveling through all these wonderful lands and the desire to head out there was growing in me.

2) What was your first motorbike or scooter ? How much cc ? Im just trying to find your two wheeler inspiration some where :)

I learned to ride on my mama's (uncle's) Hero Honda CD100SS in our village outside Chennai and then left for the US. The first bike I bought was a 95 Ducati 900SS. A complete impulse buy as I was so turned on by the guttural sound of that machine. But I was too scared to ride it, so I sold it quickly and bought a more proper 92 Suzuki GS500 and I learned to ride on that bike.

3) I read on your website jamminglobal.com, that you had a desire to raise awareness about sustainability and eudaimonia.How did you raise awareness in all the travel across 33 countries ? This can definitely be an inspiration for others too.

I wanted this journey to be a transition in my life. I knew it would change me personally and since I would be traveling through remote places of wild nature and spending time with the rural peoples of these countries, I figured I should focus my life in this sphere after the journey. Before I left, I was seeking a change from my engineering career into one more involved with the issues surrounding sustainability. I applied for and got accepted to do this distance masters program in Sustainable Development from SOAS at the University of London. I studied for the courses on my laptop and took the exams at British Councils; my first year exams were in Brazil and my second and third year were in Kenya. I was reading about Climate Change and Development as I was journeying through the Amazon and seeing that rainforest being burned and cleared with my own eyes. I read about Water Resources Management as I talked with the locals in southern Chile who were fighting the government's plan to dam up the big rivers of Patagonia. These are contentious issues and I wanted to help move them forward. In the corporate world, you have primarily convergent problems where there's a clear solution to each issue. But in the development sector, encompassing environmental and social issues, the problems are more of a divergent nature where there are many solutions to each issue and that's where I would like to apply my life-skills. In studying for this degree and talking about these issues on my website and social media, I'm hoping to raise awareness on these pressing issues.

Regarding Eudaimonia, that's something that came up during the journey. It's an old Greek philosophical term that means something deeper than happiness. It's said that eudaimonia can be found at the intersection of what's true, good and beautiful. Those are all subjective terms but we all know it when we see or experience it. I stayed with a lot of local hosts along my journey and for many of them, as a sign of gratitude, I cooked my version of a chicken curry. What I saw was that people's interaction with me changed from before the curry to after the curry. I feel that the experience of having this bald biker from India cook a curry in their kitchen with spices that his mom sent via care packages was such a grand experience that it transformed our brief relationship. People were overcome with joy after taking that first bite of my curry. I'm not saying my curry is the tastiest in the world, but I was able to connect to their stomachs and tasty food never lies. Good food goes straight to the brain where we recognize what's beautiful and seeing it created in front of you makes it true. As I saw this same experience happen every time I cooked, I realized that perhaps I was spreading eudaimonia through my chicken curry. It's a simple idea but at the same time, a powerful one.

The girl Jay sponsors through Children.org in Lusaka, Zambia.
Invited for dinner by local farmers in northern Bolivia



4)How did you fund this trip ? What percentage has been sponsorship ? Has it been easy selling the idea?

The trip has been primarily self-funded. I saved from my earnings and cashed out some investments before I left the US. I picked up a few sponsors along the way but they were only gear sponsors, as in they gave me things like chains and brake parts and gloves but no cash. Some friends and followers have donated via PayPal on my website and that's helped me manage the budget. I tried to seek sponsorship before leaving on the trip but no one was biting and that's when I decided that I was just going to go it alone.

5) What support you have managed to get from organizations ? I saw that you have some association with the Ted Simon Foundation.

Yes, I applied for and got selected to be a Jupiter's Traveller as part of the Ted Simon Foundation. What they do is encourage travellers to do something creative with their journeys and share the message that we discover along the way. That means they will help putting us in touch with publishers for books or directors for movies and things like that. And more than that, it's a network for connecting past travellers with present-day ones and building the community.

6)Now how did you manage the clothing part as you travelled across such extreme climates - probably extreme heat and cold ? Did you dump the clothes or couriered them to the next destination?

I travelled through a lot of varying climates and some days, like those in the Sahara, it would be extremely hot in the day time but then I would need a thin jacket at night, so I couldn't just send my cold gear ahead. I just traveled with it all. The key to being comfortable on a bike is layering. What I did was carry lots of thin layers that could be adjusted to suit perfectly the climate I was experiencing, so no thick sweaters or jackets, just thin performance thermals and lots of different base layers that when added up left me feeling toasty even in the chills of Patagonia. To be comfortable in the heat, my riding suit is all mesh but it's Kevlar mesh so it's much stronger than regular polyurethane mesh. And then when it got chilly, I would put a liner on, then a thermal and for really cold riding or rain riding, a rain jacket.

Northern Namibia
Crossing the Swiss Alps, heading for Africa

 

7)I saw the solar panel on your motorbike and really loved the idea of the suns energy on a long trip.Is the solar panel a common accessory used by all long distance riders or it is something you chanced upon ?

The idea behind the solar panel was a good one but it didn't work out in reality. The thing is that the angle of the panel to the sun has to be fixed and on a bike it's constantly changing, so I couldn't get a strong enough current to really charge anything. I didn't see any other long distance traveller with it, so no, it's not common at all and they all laughed at me. But, I'm an engineer and a tinkerer and I loved putting it together, even if it didn't work out.

8)Do you have any plans to write a book on this ride ?

Yes, most definitely. I'm currently working on it and I can't say when it's going to be done. I have a publisher already interested and just need to focus my energy on it.

9)Is there any particular "happiest moment" that you would like to mention in the ride and any major disappointment that you felt during the ride?

There were lots of happy moments on the ride and maybe one of my most memorable experiences would be the one month ocean voyage that I took from Argentina to Germany aboard a cargo ship. I was really thrilled when the ship finally left port in Buenos Aires and I said good-bye to the Americas as I left via sea. This was going to be a slow journey and I really wanted to experience a slow crossing of the oceans and was extremely happy when everything came together (visas, funds, logistics, etc.) that allowed me to go on this journey.

The only major disappointment during the trip was with myself when I was almost ready to give up in Tanzania. I was trying to fix a problem on my bike, sanDRina, and I couldn't figure it out for two months and I was stuck way out in some village. The mechanical breakdown had lead to an emotional breakdown but then finally I found the problem and the ride continued.

Victoria Falls, Zambia
Mozambique

 

 

10) I'm a biker and so would applaud you trip, but how was your parents reaction when you first told them about the trip?

They were not pleased. You can imagine, they are regular conservative South Indian parents and they couldn't understand why I would want to do something like this. They said they did not approve but there was nothing they could do to stop me. Slowly over the course of the journey when they saw that I wasn't just going on a long holiday and was actually learning about sustainability and planning for my future, they finally came around and supported me.

11) Do you have any plans to similarly ride out somewhere else in future ?

No plans at the moment but maybe sometime in the future, a ride through Central Asia and into Russia... Plus, there's all of Western Africa to still ride through.

12) I was part of the ride organised by DBBR and Joshua John and thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and seeing the bike. Whats your feeling on a group ride with 300 bikers after a global solo ride ?

Yeah that was a bit intense to be amongst such a huge group of bikers but I loved it. I'm so honored by the respect that Delhi Bikers have shown towards me and my trip and I hope I can inspire at least a few of them to get going on their own journeys.

13) Any special advice to bikers on long solo trips?

Just take things as they come. It's good to have a plan but also good to just let the journey direct you. Being solo it's much easier to just go with the flow and not need the consensus of the group and that's what makes solo travel so special. Of course learn how to fix most things on your bike and then you can confidently ride into far away places without worrying about a break down. Regarding safety, it's good to have a network of contacts who are following you back home and let them know when you're going into places without connection so that they aren't worried about your safety.

14)Was speed your best friend on this long trip? I mean did you have an aim or target to ride at certain speeds?

I love speed but gave up on high speed for this trip. The DR when fully loaded can go quite fast, like above 120 km/h but then fuel mileage drops a lot, so I just aimed for around 90 km/h when I was cruising on the highway. No need to go any faster and that speed allowed me to slow down quickly when obstacles turned up on my path.

15) How did you cope with loneliness on this long solo trip?

I didn't really have any issues of loneliness on this trip as I discovered joy in my solitude. I learned that we share the same energy with most every other living thing on this planet so in that sense, we are never alone. Sure at times I missed human company but then in a few days I would be in a city and staying with some local hosts and that allowed me to connect with others and be social but then I yearned again to be out on the road.

16) Did you ever feel like quitting midway in the ride anytime?

Only once and that was in Tanzania when I couldn't figure out why the bike would run for a few minutes and then die. I initially thought it was an electrical problem and tried for a long time to fix it but I wasn't getting anywhere. After two months of trying to fix her out in rural Tanzania, I was ready to just give up and burn the bike. But then finally I took a step back and realized that it wasn't an electrical issue at all but actually a fuel issue! The fuel filter had got clogged and resulted in the intermittent running. I laughed at myself and promised sanDRina I would never give up on her again.

Seeking shelter with these friendly villagers from a freak thunderstorm in northern Mozambique.
Crash in northern Kenya

 

17) How did you mentally prepare yourself with respect to the 'Risk of motorbiking' this long distance ?

Well there is no such thing that riding for a long distance is more risky than riding to your local grocer. Actually statistics show that most accidents happen close to home and at low speed. But of course, I knew that accidents were inevitable and the main thing I did was learn how to control my motorcycle properly and I did that by going to track days and learning the fine art of motorcycle control. I learned especially about braking and how to progressively apply more brake pressure without locking the wheels, which is usually how most accidents happen. Also, I took a mantra to wear my full safety riding gear at all times and while I did have a few accidents on this trip, I didn't get even one injury.

18) Has there been an inner awakening or discovering some inner peace on this trip?

Yes, I feel more comfortable now with my place in The Universe. I still don't know exactly what is my purpose here but I've learned not to worry about that and just to be. There are so many souls on this planet and many of them do not have the privilege to contemplate the greater purpose of life and everything that we know, so those of us that can, must. There is a lot wrong with today's world and the way our civilization is growing but there is also a lot right with the way humanity connects and communities grow and this journey has shown me that the energy you put out will come back to you. So being positive and living with a peaceful soul will bring others like that into your life and then that becomes your Universe. Just harboring negative thoughts all the time will attract those very thoughts into your life and then it becomes all gloomy. Being at peace with yourself can do a lot of good for the rest of humanity and a long trip like this engenders such feelings.

20) Do you think you would take your motorbike for a similar trip if you were not too good on the mechanical fixing part?

I personally wouldn't but I know many travellers who know nothing about how to fix their bikes and they are out there traveling. But they do have a lot of stress in their lives when things do go wrong and that's why I wanted to learn how to fix my motorcycle, to avoid that stress and just be prepared for the breakdowns when they happen. At the minimum I think riders should know how to fix a flat tire, check the spark plug and inspect the battery.

21) The Suzuki DR650 sanDRina is indeed a special bike to you. Whats your feelings towards it? Do you have any conversation with it on a ride sometimes, or give it a small pat?

sanDRina and I share a special bond. She's more than just a bike to me. She was my traveling partner and companion and more than that, she was my life-line in all these various countries. sanDRina's health was of paramount importance to me because if she wasn't running, then I wasn't going anywhere, so I made sure to fix whatever went wrong as soon as it went wrong rather than waiting for the problem to become more serious, like replacing a leaking gasket on the engine. I have lots of talks with sanDRina, like when I'm doing a repair or after we've just crossed a really rough stretch.

22) Planning any rewards for sanDRina...? new paint coat and shine etc? :)

sanDRina doesn't like to be clean and won't appreciate a new paint coat. What she will appreciate though is a clean carburetor, air filter and smoothly running engine. I have some long term issues to fix on her, like wear on her swingarm and a stripped sparkplug thread and Suzuki India have come forward and offered to help me in those maintenance items. She'll be on the road for years to come...

23) I feel that the media does not do enough justice by way of coverage to bikers who are riding and promoting different social causes. Whats your feeling ? Any suggestions for improvement ?

Yeah, that's a tough one. And most of the times when bikers make it into the news, it's usually when they are doing something bad, but that's also the nature of mainstream media - bad news sells more than good news. So, it's up to portals like yours and DBBR to get the message out on bikers who are making a positive contribution.

 

24) What are your future plans? Back to the daily grind or some new initiatives ?
Well, I'm currently focused on writing the book about my journey and then I'll see. No set plans, yet. I don't think I can go back to the daily grind. I have a few projects in mind and will reveal them when the time is right!

BT: That was great! Thanks for your time and sharing all the riding gyan(knowledge). I do hope a lot more folks are inspired by your ride and help save the planet and make us better human beings.Thanks again.

All ride photographs copyright with Jay Kannaiyan. He can be reached through his website http://jamminglobal.com/