AMERICAN MOTORCYCLIST MARCH 2020
On Frozen Ground
Riding Where No One Has Ridden Before
In December, I rode a motorcycle on the spectacular and surreal interior of Antarctica, the final step in my lofty ambition to ride a motorcycle on each of the seven continents.
As a result, I became the first individual known to have ridden a motorcycle upon seven continents that included riding on the interior of Antarctica, versus riding on the peninsula.
The ride was the culmination of seven years of traveling through more than 50 countries—and five years of ceaseless efforts to ride in Antarctica.
Early riding adventures
My motorcycle journey, similar to so many others, commenced when I was a teenager.
At age 13, much to my mother’s chagrin, I acquired a small Honda. Riding with other blue collar “street kids” being raised in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, I got my first taste of freedom and the allure of speed. It was an irreverent progression from our two-wheeled Schwinn, ape-hanger-adorned Sting Ray bicycles.
Unlike the dense development that permeates the Valley today, back then agricultural land and rolling hills provided the perfect setting for us to hone our skills.
Substituting straight pipes for the standard exhaust systems, we proclaimed our “rebels without a cause” attitudes.
Additionally, the desert-like environs of the northern Valley, where Indian Dunes was a hub for recreational and racing activity, offered off-road trails and motocross and flat track racing. Many years ago Indian Dunes succumbed to the realities of rapidly increasing land values and to more profitable highest-and-best-use options. But, back then, Bultacos, Maicos and Husqvarnas reigned supreme and actor Steve McQueen, the King of Cool, was our iconic motorcyclist.
My motorcycle riding days started to ebb with the entrée of my 1967 Chevelle, resplendent with a 427-cubic-inch engine, during my junior year in high school. Eventually, motorcycling went on “pause” when I graduated high school and set my sights on attaining a four-year degree at Lewis & Clark College in Lake Oswego, Ore. This pause became a lengthy hiatus as my life transitioned through a number of chapters including education, career and family.
Two years after graduating college—during which time I was introduced to corporate America—I enrolled in Harvard Business School. There were no identifiable motorcycle riders and a paucity of public school kids like me. But being the square peg in the round hole always worked out well for me.
Into the corporate world
Upon graduating, I took a position at the tongue-twisting business valuation firm of Houlihan, Lokey, Howard & Zukin. I spent two and a half years canvassing Wall Street for leveraged buyout transactions that were de riguer during the Michael Milken days of the 1980s.
Then, at the wise old age of 28, I incorporated my Street Kid, motorcycle bravado personae, into founding and becoming President of the investment banking operation of Houlihan Lokey, now a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange. Eventually, I formed my own venture capital firm.
Enough about my education and career—let’s talk about how motorcycles re-entered my life.
Back on two wheels
As we age, our mortality becomes more brightly illuminated and we recognize how short life is.
I was abruptly reminded of this reality when a close friend of mine from Harvard was diagnosed with an ultimately fatal form of cancer. This diagnosis had a bellowing effect on so many simmering embers within me. It was a reminder that there was much more to life than consummating another venture capital investment.
My passion for motorcycles was reignited. The taste of freedom. The allure of the pavement or dirt passing with a blur beneath my boots. The transitioning scents. The feel of the weather against my face. I missed them all.
To fill this void, I bought a freedom-loving Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe. From the moment I straddled the throaty, bellowing steed with its abundance of sparkling chrome, I was once again smitten.
Though hardly reminiscent of my small Honda, both bikes evoked an emotional tug that is unique to motorcycling.
I took to the highways with vigor and passion, traversing California’s diverse and amazing offerings. I relished each sinuous turn and scenic vista with an indescribable lust for freedom.
Still, I yearned for more.
Chapter Two of my seven-continent aspiration was riding in Italy.
Armed with a Michelin map, no predetermined agenda and a motorcycle—either a BMW 700 GS or a 1200 GS rented in Rome—I explored the amazing Italian countryside. Riding through Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast and the entire southern regions of Sicily and the coastal regions of the Adriatic Sea magnified the allure of international travel.
My motorcycle appendage was morphing into a central core of my existence and my yearning for free travel. Imbibing local elixirs, gorging on local cuisines, decoding foreign languages and exploring unmarked roads became captivating and nourished a desire for a more textured life.
Chapter Three was a quantum leap in many respects.
Viewing a screening of the movie “The Highest Pass” enhanced my desire to continue my international motorcycle explorations. The movie is about a young Indian guru who transported seven motorcyclists through the Indian Himalayas and traversed some of the highest passes, reaching 18,000 feet in elevation.
I was captivated by the beauty, the challenges of the riding and the spirituality that was so palpable in India.
During the question-and-answer session after the screening, the director and the guru discussed the prospects for a sequel. Shortly thereafter, I was selected to be one of seven riders in this sequel!
In preparation for this journey I embarked on a three-day, intensive off-road training course to hone my dirt, rock and mud skills in preparation for the realities of the road conditions in the Himalayas. The course was taught on BMW 1200 GS bikes and had a profound effect on my future travels, opening up the world of “paths less taken” worldwide.
Soon, I was off to New Delhi for the filmed adventure, riding and hiking through the four spiritual peaks of the Himalayas of India-Kedarnath, Badrinath, Tungnath and Hemkund.
We traversed the broken roads and muddy, rocky and narrow mountain passes on classic Royal Enfield motorcycles. It was an epic and transformative journey that combined challenging riding conditions, scenic beauty and spiritual experiences distinct to the realms of India.
The film has been post-produced into a 10-part documentary, which likely will be available for viewing some time during 2020. Noteworthy, as well, this experience catapulted me into international motorcycle travels that incorporate off-road options.
On to Africa
I was rapidly accumulating a portfolio of fascinating countries and new continents.
My fourth continent was Africa, where I embarked upon a journey through South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Malawi, Mozambique and Botswana.
It was a highly impactful ride, not only for viewing the amazing wildlife in the parks and wilds, but also for the depths of human suffering I was exposed to.
One of the values of travel is to witness, up close and personal, not only the beauty in this world but also the realities of human despair. It sensitizes you to the amazing freedoms and necessities in life that we take for granted, and which are desperately lacking in so many parts of the world. Traveling through such realms upon a motorcycle places one in closer proximity to fellow humans in need.
Continent Five unfurled an incredibly scenic adventure, predominantly off-road through Patagonia.
Traversing photogenic areas of Chile and Argentina should be incorporated into every motorcycle riders’ bucket list. If you are so inclined and skilled, I would highly recommend the off-road options, which are diminishing due to paving efforts.
The raw beauty of the Andes—the powder blue lakes, captivating landscapes, wildlife and the challenges of riding river-like rock in high winds, rain and cool temperatures—are cherished and memorable experiences.
I spent about a month riding through this region, eventually reaching the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia.
This is a renowned motorcycle destination, given its termination point at the southern point of organized rides that commence as far north as Alaska. It is also a primary embarkation point for cruises to Antarctica, which was now on my radar as a target destination.
A little over 9 miles further south from Ushuaia is Tierra del Fuego National Park, overlooking a mesmerizing compendium of floating islands amid the captivating seascape.
Briefly, I digress. The year before the Patagonia trip, I started ruminating on the concept of riding on seven continents. I made a few inquiries into Antarctica tour companies to no avail or promise of it being an attainable goal.
Now, back to Tierra del Fuego National Park where I met a group of motorcycle riders from Brazil, Chile and Argentina. A boisterous, highly energized group, they invited me to join them on their extended adventure ride. Preferring to ride solo, I politely declined. However, the lead guide, who spoke hints of English, informed me that his son was a supervisor in an Antarctic logistics company.
My antennae extended, I offered to fly our group to Antarctica, that day, with my motorcycle, where we each could share a brief ride on such an otherwise untouchable continent. But my first taste of possible success was summarily rejected.
Antarctica is a unique part of the world, with specific treaty arrangements and a multitude of restrictions. No pilot was willing to fly “rogue” for a group of ambitious motorcycle riders.
Still, my Antarctic juices were energized and I was on a tenacious mission to ride there.
Meanwhile, riding in Continent Six was quickly achieved. I rode through the Australia, with a side trip to Tasmania.
A ride along the beautiful Great Ocean Road in the south is quite beautiful, as is the Great Otway National Park.
Incredible surfing opportunities are found at a multitude of beach locations in Australia. (I have also surfed on six continents in my travels.) And Tasmania offered a great diversity of environs.
The former penal settlement of the British in the early 1800s, Tasmania is a wonderful riding territory resplendent with national parks, rugged coastlines, and, of course, Tasmanian devils.
The Final Frontier
Six down. One to go.
My five-year pursuit of riding Antarctica was not without obstacles, naysayers and challenges, which included being rebuffed by every tourist operator and logistics company.
Now it was up to the U. S. State Department, which had the ability to grant permission for such an expedition. My progress was nonexistent until April 2019 when a new staffer was receptive to my proposal. In fact, he communicated a willingness to speak with the company that would transport me and my motorcycle to Antarctica.
Promising, but I did not know of such a company.
I shifted into high gear. I explored every possible means by which an enterprise could transport me and my motorcycle to Antarctica.
In my relentless search, I came across a website that had a picture of a fat-tired bicycle being ridden on the snow, and I was hopeful. After a couple of months of conversations and discussions of very specific details—the logistics, crating requirements, riding options, snow and ice conditions, weather, battery issues, fluids, permitting, etc.—the company agreed to allow me to transport my motorcycle on their Russian Ilyushin aircraft to a base camp in the interior of Antarctica.
A multitude of issues had to be resolved before my departure. However, six months later I arrived on the Antarctic interior with a BMW 700 GS, and it was surreal. Pictures give you only a taste.
I spent almost one week in Antarctica and was able to ride my motorcycle in a variety of spectacular locations.
There are no paved roads. All of the riding was on either incredibly slick blue ice, ranging from glassy smooth to undulating bumps, or snow with highly variable degrees of compaction.
I had no experience, beyond very light snow on pavement riding on ice or snow. In advance of the trip, I embedded almost 400 metal studs into my dual sport’s knobby tires.
My initial forays were quite challenging. The prominence of the studs was relatively minor and I had the tires inflated to around 25 psi. However, by the end of the trip I had dropped to about 3 psi, and this greatly enhanced my ability to navigate, especially on the ice.
Riding on the ice in these spectacular locations, hearing the crackling of the studs, and contemplating the remoteness of the locations was dreamlike.
The snow was more challenging because the studs provided little value. It was comparable to riding in deep-sand conditions, requiring the maintenance of some speed, shifting my weight to the back tire and letting the front end float to find its track.
Temperatures—incorporating the wind chill factors—approached 25 below zero Fahrenheit. The raw beauty, harsh conditions and remoteness of the Antarctic interior are humbling and cathartic. I am extremely grateful to have been granted the privilege of such an extraordinary riding expedition.
Rides and more rides
Prior to riding in Antarctica, in the midst of riding on six continents, there were a multitude of trips not detailed above.
In the U.S., I ride daily on one of my three motorcycles: a Ducati V4S, a Ducati 1260 S Diavel, or a Harley Davidson Road King.
My 2020 Ducati Streetfighter S is on order and very anxiously anticipated.
Overseas, I am always on a BMW 1200 GS or 700 GS.
The most noteworthy rides to me were my adventures in isolated, remote regions—on my own, off-road, unprepared, unscripted and immersed in nature’s beauty.
In these domains, disconnected from our electronic devices, a motorcycle is an ideal vehicle, allowing one to truly appreciate the perfection of Mother Nature, be humbled by the insignificance of each individual and delve keenly into the soul to discover what resides within.
Inspiration for the Future
Riding motorcycles is an ideal and unique manner in which we can go beyond the proverbial “treading water in life” to create and confront challenges outside of our comfort zones. Motorcycles allow us to realize the incredible sensations of freedom, speed and the wind in our faces while enabling us to better manage the daily challenges we face.
You may accomplish this by pursuing faster times on the track, honing your skills in your favorite canyons, pursuing progressively more challenging off-road conditions or increasing the number of countries and continents you have traveled.
I have personally embarked upon all of these paths in my motorcycle life. And I encourage each of you to pursue them. Like me, I hope you benefit from the associated personal growth and find a more richly textured existence.
Ken Friedman is an AMA member from Malibu, Calif.
Dance Upon The Precipice
Initially, my quest of riding a motorcycle on seven continents was going to merely be a personal bucket list accomplishment.
However, on discovering that I became the first person known to have ridden a motorcycle on seven continents—including riding the interior of Antarctica—that changed.
I reflected on the potential to use this journey to benefit more individuals. My attentions are being directed to using this journey as a platform of inspiration.
I am starting a new not-for-profit social media hub, Dance Upon The Precipice, that will seek to inspire individuals to stretch beyond their comfort zones, persevere through their challenges, achieve personal growth and enjoy transcendent experiences.
They key is to overcome your existing state of inertia and take that first stride of ascension … now.
Remember: Life is short. Death is long. Do not merely tread water in this amazing universe. Transcend beyond your daily rituals of comfort and climb your personal precipices with vigor and passion.