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Author: James Oxley

Bedding down for the night in a Pakistani prison, near the border with Iran, Henry Crew was pleased to discover one of the inmates spoke English. The adventure biker hadn’t been arrested himself, but in an area not deemed safe for foreigners to travel alone, his armed escort had assured him the jail was the safest place to spend the night.

Henry’s new friend seemed to delight in the role of translator, helping communication flow between him, the guards and other inmates. Scurrying between them was a young boy providing a supply of sweets and tea. The convivial atmosphere was at odds with the stark prison surroundings, but it was enough to put Henry at ease. That was, until he discovered why his new friends had been locked behind bars.

A murderer and a would-be suicide bomber

“It was so strange,” Henry explained. “The only person who spoke English was a guy who was actually incarcerated. He had been studying IT at university when he murdered someone, so that’s why he was in prison. He was introducing me and kind of explaining why everyone else was in there.

“And there was a 10-year-old boy running around, getting everyone tea and coffee and little sweets. It turned out that he was arrested for wearing a suicide vest. It was intense. But they were all super-friendly people.”

Henry certainly hadn’t expected to be spending an evening in the company of a murderer and a suicide bomber when he left the UK in an attempt to become the youngest person to ride around the world.

In fact, the entire journey was a leap into the unknown for the 22-year-old biker. It represented the first time Henry had ridden outside of the UK on a motorcycle. After spending 11 months preparing for the journey in the UK, it came as a huge relief to finally embark on the adventure.

Must remember to eat

He said: “I was just so excited. For the first couple of weeks I had my head in the clouds really. I put so much time and effort into getting just to that point. For me, it was an achievement just to have that first day on the road. I was so excited that I was at the start of the next 60,000 miles.

“It was a really weird feeling the first couple of weeks. I was just so content and so satisfied and excited. I didn’t ever get hungry. I had to make myself stop and eat. I didn’t feel tired and I could ride forever. The difficult part was actually stopping myself and saying, ‘right, you need to get off the bike and eat and get a good night’s sleep’, and all of that normal stuff.”

This honeymoon period ended just three weeks into the journey when Henry found himself stranded in Kazakhstan with a broken clutch. He waited a month for a replacement to arrive from Ducati.

The Italian manufacturer had loaned Henry a Scrambler for trip and organised for replacement parts to be sent. The delay led to a domino effect of problems which would have tested the resolve of even the most road-hardened of travellers, but for Henry, it was all part of the adventure.

‘The whole trip was pretty much winging it.’

“As soon as I left Europe, everything seemed to go a bit wrong. It was all exciting and manageable. It wasn’t exactly good, but I had the energy and resilience for it at that point. Twenty days into the trip, I was in Kazakhstan and my clutch started to blow up.

“I replaced it but my Turkmenistan visa got rejected, so I had a 3,500-mile detour back through the steppe of Kazakhstan. I was late for my Iranian visa so I had to organise a ferry across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan to get into Iran. That way, I finally made it to Iran, but I ran out of money.

“Leaving Iran, I had to stay in a customs office and crossed over late the next day into Pakistan and stayed in the prison. I mean, the whole start of Pakistan was a bit of a nightmare. And then I had a load of visa issues with Myanmar as well once I got to India.

“That couple of months was so intense and everything was going wrong. But, at that point, I had the energy and I had the resilience for it. And, it was all interesting and, I don’t know. It felt like I was OK with it.”

Despite the many months of trip preparation, Henry was determined to keep route planning as loose as possible. He didn’t even take a dedicated SatNav with him, instead finding his way around the world using a mobile phone.

“I just took my phone. I kind of thought, if it gets me through to Russia then it’ll be fine and if it doesn’t then I can still pick one up relatively easily. So, I thought I’d just wing it. Well, my whole trip was pretty much winging it. Just see what happens and if it works it works, and if it doesn’t, well at least I’m not sat behind my desk.”

Henry Crew

Waking up blind

Henry soon learned that an ability to overcome problems, adapt and embrace the unexpected was key to a successful journey. However, waking up blind one morning in the Himalayas due to altitude sickness was a frightening issue he could have done without.

“We’d been riding at 5,200m and came down to 4,200m to camp. All my dreams were about breathing and I woke up in the morning gasping for air. I had started to suffocate in my sleep and my vision had temporarily gone. I could vaguely see splotches of light. It started to come back quite quickly, then slowed down. It got to a point where I thought this was going to be fine, but yeah, it was a really scary morning.”

In order to process the huge distances he needed to cover to ride around the world, Henry broke the journey down into two parts in his mind. To begin with, he focused on reaching Australia, a goal he achieved when he arrived in the west coast city of Perth.

He rode across the vast country, stopping in Melbourne where he met a local girl called Leah. Romance blossomed but all too soon Henry had to hit the road again, shipping his bike from Brisbane to Chile where he resumed his journey.

Readjusting to life on the road

After riding for so many months with the goal of reaching Australia, then meeting Leah and spending a few weeks in a more developed country, Henry found it difficult to transition back to life on the road.  

“Leaving Australia was very difficult because I got so used to being able to speak English to everyone. You can ask for whatever you want, eat whatever you want, and buy whatever you want, not a problem. And then dropping yourself back into a foreign land, and being a foreigner again, I guess was tough.

“I think I just felt really vulnerable when I got to South America and I was paranoid that something was going to go wrong. I’d reached my goal of getting to Australia and I wasn’t so decisive in what I was doing anymore. The roads were pretty sketchy and the traffic was bad and I just had this weird paranoia.

“I was extra cautious when I got to South America, mainly in my riding more than anything else, but it was really weird. I didn’t feel comfortable at all in my own abilities at that point and it took me another month to get back into the swing of things.”

Henry had plenty of time to reacclimatise to life on the road while he travelled north through Chile, Peru, Ecuador and into Colombia. It was here he found himself in Medellin, a place once dubbed the ‘most dangerous city on earth’ by Time Magazine, due to the reign of terror inflicted by notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar.

These days, the city has transformed itself into a budding tourist destination, but Henry discovered it still has its problems when he checked into a hotel he’d earlier booked online.

‘I’ve made a slight miscalculation here…’

“It said it was in the central district so I thought ok, that must be in the tourist area. So, I booked it and it turns out the central district is the sketchiest district and it was actually a brothel. Love Hotels, they called them. People hire rooms. Anyone from married couples to prostitutes go to these places. I didn’t really twig at that point. They were a bit surprised that I was there. They wouldn’t accept credit cards so I had to go out and get cash and walk through the area to the nearest bank.

“I made it back to the hotel and put the cash on the counter. It was glass. I looked down through the counter and there were condoms, a sexy nurse outfit, sex toys. I went into my room, there were no sheets on the bed, the mirror was at waist height. I thought, I’ve made a slight miscalculation here.”

“Once you got to the second flight of stairs, there was just a queue of prostitutes up the stairs, all vying for your business, while you’re desperately pushing this buzzer waiting for this person to come and unlock the door. I’m staying here out of pure ignorance, just trying to explain that to people. They were like, ‘you’re staying in a brothel, of course you want to hire my services’.”

Gladly leaving his accommodation in Medellin behind, Henry once again travelled north, through central America, Mexico, and into the USA. Riding in the States had been a long-held dream for the young biker, but a persistent mechanical issue became terminal which left Henry stranded for a month in New Orleans waiting for a replacement engine from Ducati.

The land of the free

Once he finally got back on the road, the delay meant the seasons had changed and he found himself riding through snow and freezing temperatures. After travelling most of the way around the world, Henry discovered the reality of riding through the States did not live up to his American dream.

“I found that all of the national parks with any kind of area of beauty seemed to have a fence around it and a ticket price. I didn’t feel free. For the last year, I’d felt so much freedom, being able to go where I want, camp where I want, just walk in and enjoy whatever I wanted.

“Then in America, I had to pay for everything. There was a fence around everything, and everywhere I stopped a bus load of tourists would get out. I was like, this is not adventurous at all. It’s the land of the free and I felt like I was walking between barb wire fences all of the time.”

Henry travelled across country to New York where he flew to Lisbon in Portugal for the last leg of his around-the-world journey. He travelled through Spain and France, before catching the ferry to Folkestone where a group of around 100 riders accompanied him to the Bike Shed Motorcycle Club in London, the end point of his journey. He was greeted by a welcome home party and took part in a whirlwind of media interviews and photos.

World record holder

At 23-years-old, he had become the youngest person to ride around the world, beating the previous record by just over a month.

He’d ridden 52,500 miles, travelled through 35 countries, crossed five continents, burned through 10 sets of tyres, 438 tanks of fuel, and experienced maximum temperatures of 52C and lows of -10C. He now faced the task of acclimatising to everyday life.

Henry explained: “It was really strange. I didn’t feel like I’d changed at all, or anything had really changed in my life until I came back. I had nothing to compare to. You lose your grip on what’s normal, I guess. You get so used to being on a bike and travelling every day that you have no comparison. So, when you come back it is a bit of a shock.

“The morning after I got back, I woke up and had to go downstairs and outside to the garage to make sure that the bike was still there. It was the only reminder or proof that the journey had actually happened.”

That reminder was sadly snatched away from Henry when thieves stole the Ducati Scrambler he’d ridden around the world on a few weeks later. However, he has another happy reminder of his travels. The girl he fell for in Melbourne, Leah, travelled to London for his return and the pair are now a couple.

As issue 55 of Adventure Bike Rider went to print, Henry had flown to Australia for a month to spend time with her. Leah is hoping to move to the UK. It seems that after more than a year travelling around the globe, Henry’s story had a very happy ending.

Henry raised more than £11,000 for the Movember charity throughout his ride. To find out more visit and to donate, click here.