Update: The entire story of this fascinating adventure is available also in English, at mongolia.ro/eng
Today we bring you another story about courage, adventure and passion, of course involving a BMW. Mihai Barbu, a Romanian citizen, traveled 26,000 km (approx.16,000 miles) to Mongolia, aboard a BMW F650 GS Dakar 2000, named Doyle.
Mongolia. If the destination doesn’t sound challenging enough, then stick to us to learn what made this trip even more special. Apart from traveling alone by bike, through 13 countries and some 16,000 miles of road, the idea to finance this expedition was a very original one: “selling” miles for stories and pictures.
How did this work? Mihai split his initial 21,000 km (approx. 13,000 miles) trip in segments of 500 km (approx. 310 miles) and decided to advertise on a motorcycling forum that he is selling each segment of the trip for 50 Euro. The buyer of each of the 43 segments would receive in exchange the story and pictures from that trip segment. Most of the buyers were bikers, eager to be part of such a project and live the trip to Mongolia through Mihai’s eyes.
The expedition took Mihai nearly four months (July-November 2009) and spread across 13 countries in Europe and Asia: Ukraine, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, and Bulgaria. They set off, the hero and his bike, with the windscreen decorated with the names of his 43 imaginary friends. The stories are written in a very personal style, and they evoke so many life experiences, some of them quite overwhelming. Mihai published this very month a book, named “I sell kilometers” (Mongolia.ro.), which contains the letters he wrote to each of the 43 buyers, and some of the amazing pictures he took along the way. At the moment the book is available in Romanian only, but the adventurer is seriously considering publishing an English version.
BMWBLOG: What were the reasons behind this trip? Why Asia/Mongolia and why did you go alone?
Mihai Barbu: The idea was to go to Ulaan Baatar and back by bike, and it all came to me while I heard the word “Mongolia” while talking to a friend of mine on the phone. This happened a couple of years before the expedition began. I don’t quite know why I chose Mongolia, it was based on impulse. I wasn’t supposed to go alone; there were four of us initially. One by one, they gave up on this idea, for various reasons, and I found myself alone. But it’s not like I wasn’t expecting this.
BMWBLOG: How did you come up with the idea to sell kilometer segments? Apart from the money raised this way, what were your other financing sources? How much did the entire trip cost?
Mihai Barbu: It all came to me one evening, in May, when I was thinking how to get some extra money. My brother, who by the way is smarter than me, came up with this idea. It was already late to look for sponsors or get in touch with newspapers or magazine, as I was planning initially. When he asked me: “What if you sold the kilometers?” I burst into laughter for a couple of seconds. Then everything just made sense, I put together a “selling ad”, and I posted it in a motorcycle forum. It was “sold out” in two weeks. My trip had initially 21,000 km, and it was split into segments of 500 km each. The buyer received – in exchange for 50 Euros – the story of those 500 km, the pictures, a decal with his/her name on Doyle’s windscreen, and a stone I picked up on the road, during that 500 km segment. I secured a loan to cover the rest of the money. I didn’t have any money put aside. I spent $5,200 during the trip. I have no idea how much I spent before leaving, with country visas or getting the bike ready, but I guess at least another $5,200.
BMWBLOG: What made you choose the bike rather an automobile?
Mihai Barbu: Because this is how I ride, I don’t see myself traveling in any other way.
BMWBLOG: Tell us more about “Doyle”.
Mihai Barbu: Doyle is a proud 2000’ F650 GS Dakar, and “he” has been in my possession since 2005. I purchased the bike from someone that purchased it initially in Germany. Sadly, I must say that Doyle broke the myth of the German bike owner, according to which if you buy a German bike it will definitely work well. Nope. I don’t know what this guy did to my Doyle, but he was a wreck. In all aspects. When I introduced Doyle to my mechanic, his first words were: “Sell him”. I said no, and then I slowly got “him” back to life. I installed on “him” almost the entire Touratech catalog of products – which is pretty much the most respectable company in the business of preparing a bike for the show.
BMWBLOG: What equipment did you carry with you throughout the journey?
Mihai Barbu: I had a GPS device, named Marcel, who broke more often than the bike’s engine, and a laptop named Luther, who passed away in Kazakhstan. Two photo cameras and two lenses.
BMWBLOG: 26,000 km in four months, 13 countries crossed. How did your usual day look like? On average, how many kilometers did you cover daily?
Mihai Barbu: It looked quite simple. Every morning I would wake up cursing, because I would have liked to sleep some more. Next came the nightmare of the daily wrap-up (I would have gladly paid someone else to do this), then the road, the endless road. I didn’t have a certain distance to cover daily. One day I rode for 800 km, some other day only some 100 km.
BMWBLOG: Technical difficulties, spare parts, challenges?
Mihai Barbu: Problems….not major problems, but a lot of them. My radiator drove me crazy. It broke 6 times. Now I can fix it with my eyes closed. Two water pumps replaced, but I knew this would happen. It was the only spare part I was expecting to get damaged, so I had two of them with me. Oil-scal rings, low-quality oil, low-quality gas, damaged brake tube. On average the fuel consumption was about 4l/100km, but I also had records of 3,2l/100km, and I like to believe this was due to the two butterflies I found in the air filter.
BMWBLOG: If you were to think about one technical element that was essential for the success of this trip, what would that one be?
Mihai Barbu: I don’t know, you can’t be ready for everything that is out there. What you can do – and what I tried myself as well – is to leave very little details at the mercy of luck. Half of my luggage was tools and spare parts. I can strongly say that only something catastrophic could have happened to Doyle for me not to be able to go on.
BMWBLOG: Tell us a funny story involving the bike.
Mihai Barbu: Once I was staying under a tree and was drinking some juice, and asking questions to Doyle, and the wind was blowing and made the bottle wheezing, and I was thinking that this must be Doyle’s way of communicating with me. But I won’t tell you about this one, because you will believe my state of mind was affected by the loneliness. But I remember with great pleasure the time me and Doyle fell down to the ground in Kyrgyzstan, on a deserted plateau somewhere at 3,000m altitude, and when some 60 year old ladies helped me get him upright.
BMWBLOG: What piece of advice would you give the people who would want to follow your steps?
Mihai Barbu: To start on their own road, not to follow my steps. And to do this as fast as they can.
BMWBLOG: How about the countries you crossed – how difficult was the road for a bike, the infrastructure?
Mihai Barbu: The roads were Okay, except for Mongolia and Tajikistan, where asphalt is a science-fiction element, meaning that people have heard of it, but it doesn’t quite exist anywhere. As a paradox, I liked these two countries most. I don’t know if there’s a direct relationship between these aspects, but I like to believe there is.
BMWBLOG: Future plans aboard the bike?
Mihai Barbu: No. I’m not thinking of anything like this for the future. As I said, it just came to me then, so probably next time it will be the same.
BMWBLOG: Tell us more about you passion for bikes.
Mihai Barbu: Undoubtedly, the bike is the most beautiful thing that happened to me. I had no interest whatsoever in these things, they didn’t make my head turn on the street, until I saw my first bike in a shop window – a 250 cc Yamaha Virago. I fell in love, I went to the driving school, I got my license, then a bank loan, then my bike. Roua (Dew) was her name. I still have it and I will keep it, because I don’t sell bikes.
BMWBLOG: Why BMW?
Mihai Barbu: Because occasionally I liked its looks. I bought my both bikes because of their looks. I’m a photographer, I make a living out of my eyes, and therefore I like to believe they’re not wrong when they see something beautiful. I’m not into technical details. Showing me a list of performance specs won’t help. First it has to get passed my eyes. I would like to congratulate the designer of this specific model. It won me over.
BMWBLOG: Tell us what the BMW brand represents for you.
Mihai Barbu: In short, it represents the name of the maker of one of my bikes. I’m sorry, but Doyle is first of all Doyle, and only afterwards is a BMW bike.
BMWBLOG: Do you go meet other BMW owners? Did you participate to BMW Motorrad or other similar events?
Mihai Barbu: No. I’m more of a loner myself. But I never say no to a beer invitation.
BMWBLOG: What BMW bike or car you like most, and why?
Mihai Barbu: I’m not into cars. I like Doyle. Because it’s mine.
BMWBLOG: And one final question: What this trip meant to you, as an achievement, as a life experience?
Mihai Barbu: There is a small conclusion, but you can read it on Mongolia.ro, in my last letter.
Our note: the letter is in Romanian, you can use Google translate to read it. We compiled below for you some of the paragraphs we loved most.
How about the existential questions? Have I found who I am and all the stuff? No, not at all. But I don’t think I even asked those questions. I was too busy seeing and feeling. I’m not going back home with another Mihai besides that one I left with, four months ago. And moreover, I knew pretty much who I was. What I want, I will never find out, and the answer is not even at the end of the world.
How about some conclusions? A travel tip, a guide to buying a bike? The guides are on the shelves of the bookstores, the bike tips are to be found in the magazines, and the conclusions…I don’t know where they are, but they’re not here. I would be happy to know that at least one of those who joined me, picked up a map after we came back and stopped for a moment thinking “what if?…”. There is no bigger reward for me than to know I’m handing on the torch. I don’t even need another one.
And what’s the recipe, if there is one? Oh, that’s an easy one. Once you mustered a bit of courage, you’re as good as gone. Then it gets easier. You need to have patience, to make frequent stopovers, to meet people, to wave at them, to let others overtake you, to smile a lot, not to hurry, to see, to feel, to look back, to have trust, to know, to find out, not to be ashamed to cry, not to stop marveling, and most of all, to love.
What have I learned? Well…I learned some things. I learned that any dream in this world can light up, absolutely anything, and it all depends on me, and then I have the world at my finger tips. There’s no trick, no word of wisdom or quote. I learned that you have to stick to your road and to know that you may never go again to the places you are now, and in the same time, when you are too tired or too cold, or too hungry or scared, or you don’t want to go on, to be able to say “and what if I never get here again?”. That no matter how much money, sponsors, cameras, assistance cars, five star hotel rooms or people who speak high or low of you there are, you have nobody but yourself when you are on the bike. That two is much bigger than one. That it is never too early but tomorrow is already too late. That even if it doesn’t seem this way, in this world there are much more good people than bad people. That there is a balance in everything, that it can’t be only evil or only good. That there is no problem without a solution. And one more thing. A simple lesson, but learned the hard way. I learned that after all, you are never alone.
Mihai, thank you for your time!
Let’s have a look at the gallery of absolutely stunning pictures, that need no word of description anymore.
[Photo credit: Mihai Barbu]