We’ve encountered some pretty interesting people during our RV travels. They all share their stories of where they are from and their livelihoods. And then, we meet other nomads, like ourselves, who have their own stories but of their travels and cool things they’ve seen or done. But when we met a cool group of foreign motorcycle nomads on Urals with sidecars loaded to the gills with gear, we were eager to meet and learn about their own journey because it is like no other.
Cover photo courtesy of Leaving HomeFunktion
Motorcycle Nomads as we know it
For many years before RVing, Dan and I would use our vacation time (his military leave) to take two-three week long Harley trips to see family or friends or to just go somewhere different.
Usually married couples of our ages would be going on lavish cruises or fly to distant countries to sip foreign wines and photograph ruins they’ve seen in history books. But us? We always took a different road. Motorcycle riding was our passion. It was part of what defined us. We were motorcycle nomads.
At the beginning of each trip, we opened our garage door, tugged at our luggage tie-downs one last time, geared up and said our prayer while idling our engines to get the oil running through their steel veins. We’d ride until we were either tired or a planned overnight.
And then, we’d find some hotel on the road and laugh at each other’s road grime and sunburn faces; results from hours of sun and hard riding. We’d grab our motorcycle bags and jackets and to head for our hotel room.
It felt so good to get a nice long hot shower, dress in clean comfy clothes and walk to a nearby local hotspot for a meal and a brew or two. We’d walk back to our cushy room and bounce between the white sheets for peaceful slumber. The next morning, we’d rise and mount up to do it all again. We thought we were the most bad-ass motorcycle nomads. Or, so we thought!
Meeting fellow motorcycle riders with a different kind of journey
In early November 2016, while parked in Pahrump, Nevada, we day-tripped to Death Valley National Park in our dually. After passing the park’s entrance sign, we stopped briefly at a small pullout to use the restroom and get some park information.
When we got out of the truck, we noticed a group of odd looking Ural 3-wheeled motorcycles loaded to the gills with well-worn travel bags, spare tires, dented metal and red plastic gas cans, coolers, large canisters of some sort and other motorcycle gear. One of the Ural’s was by itself with a few road-weathered young men looking perplexed at the broken down overloaded sidecar motorcycle.
There were four other of these odd-looking bikes parked about 25 yards away. These bikes, were accompanied by a few young women stretching their legs and talking amongst themselves.
Now, if you’ve ever seen the Mad Max movie, that’s how I would describe the bikes and these riders. They were hardened looking riders; just as we did in our days on the road only a shade or two dirtier and sweatier with frayed clothing, and scuffed boots that needed a serious polishing.
Normally, an average person would, without a doubt, fail to even make eye contact with this motley-looking riders and walk briskly past them and get the hell out of Dodge.
But we knew different. We understood and certainly have been in their boots a time or two. The motorcycle nomads looked quite intriguing and I would be lying to say that I wouldn’t have been a wee bit envious. After all, we love riding ourselves and big trips are just exciting.
What is a URAL motorcycle
The Ural motorcycle is a cross-country vehicle which is closely attached to Russia, ex-Soviet countries and Mongolia. This type of motorcycle with a sidecar has historically been a traditional means of transportation all across the communistic era. It is generally considered robust, anyone can repair it, and spare parts can be found in a local pile of garbage, a musty attic or the backyard of some lonely tacha.
Learning about their Leaving HomeFunktion journey
While Dan was getting some park info at the kiosk, I took a jaunt over to meet them. I couldn’t help taking note of their loaded mounds secured on their Urals. I noticed the foreign license tags which explained the monstrosity of gear piled on.
Seeming approachable, I started conversing with the young women who were taking a much needed break. I asked where they were from, how long they were on the road and where they were headed. Trying to make them feel at ease, I explained that we, too, were riders. But then, I had to step back for a moment. As hardened motorcycle nomads ourselves, we could hardly compare ourselves to them and their journey.
Under all the road grim and dirt on her face, arms and shirt, there was a vivacious twenty-something and tall lady rider, Anne (pronounced ‘Ah-nah’). Her very short haircut was a dead giveaway that she cut it herself. I loved her outgoing and fearless demeanor. Though the other two lady riders (Nadine and Elisabeth) with matted helmet-hair, sweaty brows, neck wraps and road-grimed shirt weren’t as fluent with their English, they were super friendly and open to making conversation.
I instantly picked up their European accents which proved right when I asked them where they were from. Anne mentioned that she was from Germany but was amazingly proficient with her English.
I asked if they minded me taking photographs of them with their heaping rides. They gladly obliged and did a couple poses for me. There were four Ural 650’s with sidecars and two Yamahas and their riders who joined them in Canada. These motorcycle nomads were proud.
I shared that we too, are nomads but of a different kind; telling them about ‘our’ two-year journey throughout the United States as RV travelers. I pulled out one of our travel cards and gave it to Anna.
She ooooo-ed and awww-ed at our RV fifth wheel; telling me that she’s seen RV’s like ours other than in America. She giggled when we told her that we travel with our two cats. I explained that we had two big leather recliners, a beautiful galley kitchen, a king-size bed and a real shower. I also shared that we also tow a small trailer with a pair of Yamaha XT225’s to ride in the deserts and mountains.
Reciprocally, she handed me their travel card. By then, Dan had walked over to us to join in the conversation. While he was getting to know them, I briefly glanced at their travel card which had the most peculiar photo of a suited up motorcyclist riding a camel (or yak?) trying to lasso the rider on one of their Urals with Leaving HomeFunktion.
Leaving HomeFunction’s Journey
Leaving HomeFunktion are five artists riding Ural 650’s on a 40,000 km journey. We were utterly speechless at their absolutely incomparable, scrupulous, and incredibly gutsy two and a half year journey.
This amazing pilgrimage hardly compared to any of our cross-country motorcycle trips. In broken English, Anne shared their two year journey; beginning in Germany and having traveled over 30,000 kilometers thus so far.
She went on to tell us of their adventurous experiences through Western Europe, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Republic of Georgia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia. They even ‘floated’ their Urals down the Kolyma River in Russia to a port where they could board them onto boats to make way to Anchorage, Alaska.
Then she explained how they dry-camped wherever they could; cooling their meals on campfires, and sleeping on bedrolls under tarps on the ground. She and her comrade motorcycle nomads would ride days without seeing much of anyone or anything (other than the incredible scenery she described earlier). This explained the monstrous mounds of cargo on their motorcycles and in their sidecars.
Anne told us that the United States has the most differential terrain than any other country she’s ever been to; from the Rocky Mountains, the desert Southwest, the rainy Pacific Northwest to now, Death Valley where we all stood talking.
Anna also said the Leaving HomeFunktion motorcycle nomads had a stopover in Las Vegas to acquire much needed parts to do repairs. And those who don’t know, Ural parts aren’t exactly the easiest to procure which explained the frustrations on their faces.
She said their final destination was New York City as noted on their travel card. However, they had to change direction and head to Mexico instead because their Visas were going to expire enroute to their destination.
We touched lightly about their safety on the road. Explaining that we often carried ‘legal protection’ on our trips. She looked at me wide-eyed as if I had three heads. “Oh, we don’t worry about that, we have a machete to cut firewood”, she grinned with her eyes shifting to her motorcycle. I couldn’t help looking over and wondering where the heck they put such a thing amidst their heaps of tied down gear.
Our conversation continued; shifting back to having to reroute to Mexico instead of onto their final destination of New York City.
They would cross the border to Tijuana, travel through Mexico and wait for their renewed Visas. They would then cross back over to the United States and continue their journey as originally planned.
I did advise them when traveling through Mexico to stay together as their laws differ greatly from ours and the Mexican government handles law enforcement much differently.
Time to part ways
It was starting to get late and we wanted to get on with visiting Death Valley National Park. We wished we could have chatted with the other motorcycle nomads but we didn’t want to interrupt their mechanical doings. They seemed very eager to get the one Ural fixed as sunset was nearing.
We finally said our farewells, took a couple more snapshots while wishing each other a safe journey. We got back into our truck and headed to the first Death Valley National Park exhibit stop.
While we were enjoying the overlook views, we heard that familiar rumble in the distance as they were approaching. It was our new motorcycle nomads friends of Leaving HomeFunktion. A huge smile beamed on our faces as we could see them approaching in the distance. Dan excitedly said, “Ahhhh! They finally got ’em running!”
As they rolled past us, we exchanged waves. As I looked at Dan, he asked laughingly, “wish you were them, don’t ya?” I instantly grinned without saying a word. He knew my answer.
Read about another cool motorcycle rider story