“You are more than you appear to be. Life is greater than you have ever known it. The best is yet to come.” -Ernest Holmes
In May of 2003, an adventurous married couple, Lisa and Simon Thomas, decided to embark on a motorcycle adventure of a lifetime around the world. Eighty countries and six continents later, what started off as a 16-month motorcycle trip has now been on-going for a record breaking 17 years. Despite having to take a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, they are still looking forward to continuing their journey with a goal of seeing forty more countries and reaching Antarctica, as well as expanding their careers as entrepreneurs, motivational speakers, writers, photographers, and educators.
As a couple, the Thomases have always been the type to rise to a challenge. As a woman growing up in the mid-70s, it was uncommon to see female bikers. However, Lisa and her two sisters, encouraged by their parents to be independent, were hopping on their own bikes as soon as they had licenses. As a rebellious teen, Simon couldn’t wait to buy a motorcycle, an urge that only increased when his father told him he couldn’t have one. Then on his 16th birthday, his parents finally gave in and bought him his first bike, an old 50 cc puch moped.
Interestingly, Lisa and Simon did not initially bond over motorcycles, but connected over their careers in the fitness industry and their interests in outdoor lifestyles. Although they both hail from Gloucestershire, England, they actually met in Leicester where they met through work, quickly becoming good friends. This month they will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary and have been sharing adventures together for 28 years.
So what’s the key to their successful relationship?
“When you’re on the road with your husband, you have to laugh about things,” Lisa said.
Their life on the road began in 2003 after seven years living in Somerset, UK. They had come to a crossroads in their lives- Simon had recently been injured in a serious motorcycle accident and Lisa had been having some coronary health problems, which caused both to reflect on their lives and what they wanted to do.
Having saved money for a few years and being at the height of their careers, they decided to take a break and planned a 16-month motorcycle trip around the world. When they hit the three-year mark, they reevaluated their situation and decided to sell their home, pay off their mortgage in order to self-finance their travels, raise money for charities, and make the road their home.
Throughout their travels, the pair confesses to love a challenge and thrive in extreme landscapes that push their personal and physical limits.
“‘Extreme riding’ provides a thrill and a reward that’s tough to beat. It’s when you find out who you truly are,” said Lisa recently.
They have both fallen in love with the vast emptiness of desert landscapes, sweeping dunes, and extreme temperatures.
“Vast remote deserts have a raw beauty that not many get to experience. They also have a way of humbling you and putting things into perspective,” said Simon.
Together they’ve traversed and explored 36 deserts on six continents, including the world’s largest, The Sahara, where they first learned how to sand ride. The couple admits that Mongolia’s remote Gobi Desert with its extreme temperatures was one of the most challenging to navigate and survive.
When asked about their un-supported crossing of Africa’s Sahara Desert, Simon described it like this: “Imagine standing on the pegs of your bike, like a jockey, for 12-hours a day, and riding from the Mexican border to the Canadian border non-stop. In between, there are no roads, no people, no gas stations, no shops, and no help- just an endless sea of sand and nothing else.”
“You can’t afford to make a mistake- it could kill you,” Lisa said. “But I’d do it again.”
An unforgettable part of their journey was when the pair took on Brazil’s mighty Amazon Jungle, traveling from the Amazon’s Capital city of Manaus to Porto Bello in 2005.
For the Thomases, the challenge was to ride from the North to the South through the heart of the Amazon Jungle on a route never before attempted by large capacity motorcycles. Faced with biting insects, knee-high mud tracks, and decayed bridges, they headed south through the rainforest. Early in the morning of the second day and faced with an impassable river, they had no choice but to try to cross the worst bridge they’d seen so far. With Lisa guiding, Simon rode across first. The rotting wood gave way, sending Simon falling deep into the jungle undergrowth.
Faced with an unconscious husband and no one to call for help, incredibly Lisa remained calm and logical. Eventually, Simon came around, though the fall had left him in agony, partially paralyzed and blind. They tended to his injuries as best they could and repaired Simon’s critically damaged motorcycle. After the fall, Simon admitted he had no memory of riding his and Lisa’s bikes across the bridge.
The twosome then rode the most painful and difficult three weeks of their lives, before finally reaching Sao Paolo, where they were admitted to hospital. Lisa was treated for Malaria and Simon underwent emergency and life-saving surgery to repair his badly broken neck.
“We do everything together,” Lisa quipped in reference to their joint hospital stay.
Still, these experiences have only made their relationship stronger and have been far from deterrents for this determined pair.
Like for so many around the world, the COVID pandemic has drastically changed the Thomases’ plans for 2020. Plans to lecture and instruct thousands of would-be adventurers at the Overland Expo, one of the worlds largest and most prestigious adventure-based events, have been placed on hold. The global lockdown has left Simon and Lisa stranded back in Europe after visiting for medical reasons, while their bikes and all their world possessions were with a trusted friend in the US.
Currently, the dynamic duo is living in a 12ft x 30ft log cabin (much larger than the tent they are used to), nestled on a mountainside, in a national park in Wales and have been quarantined there since the pandemic started. Although Lisa feels “weird” not being able to ride her motorcycle these days, she also feels very lucky to be “locked up” in such a beautiful, quiet place and surrounded by nature.
Not ones to sit still, they have used this time to work on another cookbook after the success of Lisa’s last one entitled DIRTY DINING -An Adventurers Cookbook in which she provides creative and delicious recipes, prepared with basic ingredients, ideal for travel-lovers who enjoy independence and good food. They are also about to announce the release and publication of the first and long anticipated photographic book entitled LIVING LENS – A Photographic Journey.
Separated from their beloved motorcycles by the Atlantic Ocean, they confess to being desperate to hit the road and continue their incredible journey. Their ultimate goal is to ride through 122 countries on all seven continents. As a side challenge they are also aiming to ride from the most northerly to the most southerly points of each continent. They would also like to revisit some of their favorite places. At the top of their “revisit” list is Africa, with its rich and diverse cultures, wildlife, and geographic backdrops.
It was 17 years ago when they first explored Africa. The couple readily admits that back then they were naive, with no photographic experience or expertise and only a 3.2 meg pixel camera to capture all that they saw. Today they’d love to return as professional photographers and truly capture Africa with the latest high definition cameras and technology, supported by the experience and knowledge they’ve fought so hard to acquire.
In addition to their combined successes, Lisa also has her own personal achievements as a female rider, having ridden further continuously than any woman in history, which is over 500,000 miles and counting.
“When I’m on my bike, I feel alive and free,” Lisa said proudly. “And I’m 5’3 and approaching 60.”
“And you’ve survived the “mud up to your armpits” and all the world has thrown at you,” Simon added for her.
It’s easy to see their love and mutual respect for each other. They truly are a team.
When asked if she had any advice for other riders or aspiring riders, Lisa had this to say:” Don’t set limitations for yourself. There are lots of naysayers out there who will tell you that you can’t do that or this, or that you have to do the safe thing and follow a predictable life course of university, job, marriage and kids. While this might suit some, it’s so important to work out what makes “you” truly happy and what you’re passionate about. Then fill your life with as much of that thing as possible. Life shouldn’t be predictable. Sometimes the most amazing moments of your life are the ones that you didn’t see coming. So, Don’t take things for granted and dream big. It’s about the life in your years not the years in your life”
She also added that whatever your ambition, “It’s important to set a start date, commit and then go for it. Remember that when setting out on any new adventure, you’ll never feel completely ready. The important thing is to start and take that first step. Otherwise, years down the line, you risk regretting all the things that you didn’t do.”
Lisa and Simon are living proof of what it can be like to live with no regrets.
Photography gallery: www.prints2ridetheworld.com
This story was told by Rebecca Karli, edupreunuer and motorcycle enthusiast.