Steve Crombie: The Extreme Life
Some of you might remember the name Steve Crombie, the spirited adventurer who rode his Honda NX650 Dominator – known as Wolverine – 90,000km from Australia to the Arctic Circle via South America. He wrote a book about it called Lost On Earth, and it was full of exciting tales that most people would find unbelievable. Steve lives for the extreme, and unlike most people, he feels most alive when faced with the toughest of challenges. Now he’s embarking on a new challenge; one that is as much a love story as it is an adventure. He has fallen in love with a gal named Amelia Darmawan, and before they settle down they’ve decided to ride two-up on Steve’s KTM 1190 Adventure from Sydney to New York. Yep, just packed up their lives on to one motorcycle and headed off for one big final adventure before the kids arrive. Are they serious you might ask? Well, they stopped by Nimbin on their way north and I sat down with the two of them to find out more about this epic journey. Here’s what they had to say.
TM: In a nutshell, where are you guys heading?
Steve: So we are riding from Australia to New York without an aeroplane. We’re travelling by motorbike and boat around the ring of the Pacific through 21 countries and it will take us a couple of years.
Can you give us more description about the route?
Amelia: We started in Sydney and are heading up the East Coast of Australia until we get to Brisbane. Then we veer inland towards Dalby before winding up to Mount Isa and Darwin via the Great Savannah Way in the wet season! From there we travel by boat to Dili in East Timor and through Indonesia, island hopping all the way to Singapore. Then up the eastern coast of South East Asia through China, into Russia and the most northeastern town of Magadan. Here we’ll find a fishing boat to take us across to Alaska. From there, we ride up to the Arctic Ocean for a swim before heading southeast across the Rocky Mountains through Canada and into the US, where we’ll zig-zag our way across to New York.
Steve: And that’s not the end of it. Once we get to New York, we’ll hang out there for a while and then head south through Central America to Panama, where we’ll buy a boat and sail back home to Australia across the Pacific ocean.
Have you ever sailed a boat before?
Nope… [pause … laughs all-round].
How did this crazy adventure come about?
Steve: Short version – we met at work, where Amelia was the first person to join the company. We worked as friends for some time, fell in love, and decided that before we settle down and have kids, we should go on an adventure.
Amelia: It was only a few months ago when Steve proposed. It was all very exciting. We picked up a map (Pacific centred), pointed at places we both wanted to visit and joined the dots with a marker, and said, ‘Yeah let’s do that!’
Steve: We worked our arses off six days a week for five years stuck in the rat race. We lived in a beautiful spot in Bondi on top of a cliff looking out to the ocean, where we saw whales and dolphins go past every day, and it was only a 200-metre walk to swim at the beach. But it was like we were stuck in a monotonous cycle and needed to break away before it consumed us. So we modified the Totem business model, enabling us to work from anywhere in the world.
Amelia, had you ever been on a motorcycle before?
Only riding the KTM 1190 Adventure to and from work with Steve. I also did a trip with him around Sri Lanka two-up about 12 months ago.
Steve: The KTM 1190 Adventure we’ve been using as our mode of transport in Sydney is the same bike we’ll be riding to New York.
So you only had three months to do all this planning, including getting visas and permits into each country?
Steve: Yeah, it was a hectic three months for sure. We sold or gave away everything we owned, shut down the physical office, left our apartment and prepared for a life on the road. We built methodical lists of everything we needed, weighed down to the gram, then built the bike, acquired the equipment and prepared as best we could. As far as visas go, that will be an ongoing process. It’s not so easy to get them when bringing a vehicle into the country, and we are visiting 21 different countries!
What happens when you’re in the middle of, say, Russia and an injector fails? What do you do?
Steve: When the shit hits the fan, that’s when I come alive. They are the moments I love. There’s always a solution to any problem, you need the time and patience to solve it. From previous experience, if you believe in what you’re doing, any situation you find yourself in can be sorted out with a little bit of skill, faith and luck. It’s amazing how people just arrive in the middle of nowhere. For example, some random guy rocks up, saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got a ute. I can drive you to this location, and my cousin in America runs a KTM store. Why don’t I call him to arrange a part … blah blah blah’. The most unexpected things have happened on past adventures and I’ve always managed to get back on the road okay. Trust your own survival instincts and navigational skills, and I know I’ll be able to get us both to safety in any situation.
What if you get hurt and Amelia has to get you out of trouble?
Steve: We’ve talked this through and thought about every scenario that might happen, and we’ve both done first-aid training courses and the training if one of us should get injured. We’re carrying a Garmin InReach Explorer that enables us to text or hit SOS if we get in trouble. We have various types of navigation equipment, 13.5 litres of water, a full-range of 500km, first-aid and survival kits. Before departing, I also spent 10 days in the bush training with Bob Cooper (one of top five survival experts in the world) with no food, water or shelter – just a survival kit the size of your fist, and wearing a three-piece suit in the middle of the Pilbara during the hottest period of the year. I survived that experience, so I feel I can survive anywhere. And I still carry the same survival kit in my bag every day.
What are you both looking forward to most on the trip?
Amelia: For me, I’m looking forward to leaving behind all the material possessions and worries of the day-to-day life in Sydney, and just living with everything we’ve strapped to the bike. Already I feel like I have a stronger connection to all the items we have and feel a lot more resourceful. One of my motivations for this trip is seeking the secret to happiness, and I feel like meeting people from all round the world will give us a really good insight into the different ways people live and go about their life. The concept of what we’re doing is ‘The Extreme Life’, and the idea is ‘The highs and the lows of life that stick in your memory defines you as a person, and makes you who you are’. We’re seeking these moments on our adventure; embracing the lows as they happen and chasing the highs, hoping to find the secret to a happy life.
Steve: Yeah, that’s the ultimate test for us; it’s all of those things. We want to go on a global adventure to test ourselves against the world, to meet extraordinary people, have extraordinary experiences, to be challenged, and to test our relationship. If we survive this trip as a couple, which I believe we will, we’ll get married at the end. I believe by embarking on this wild adventure together, it will create the fabric that will enable us to coexist for the rest of our lives, which is the ultimate dream for any couple who wants to be together forever.
Steve, you’ve experienced many great adventures on a motorcycle. Is there a moment on one of your epic rides where you thought, ‘Oh boy, I’ve screwed up here’?
Oh, there’s many. But there’s one moment I remember that’s stuck in my mind forever. Riding out of Ecuador on my Honda NX650 Dominator, racing to make a boat due to depart on the Rio Coco (otherwise known as the Cocaine River) that goes from Ecuador all the way to the mouth of the Amazon, I was running late and there was only one boat that left per month. And as I was riding up the highest mountain pass across the Andes coming out of Ecuador, my engine started to run poorly as the jetting wasn’t set for the altitude. I couldn’t reach the top of the mountain so I pulled over to the side of the road, and because I didn’t have time to get my gloves out of the bottom of my bag before leaving, my hands were freezing and I lost feeling in my fingertips. I became desperate as I knew time was running out. My bike wouldn’t go any further, my hands were too cold and sore to work on the bike so the only thing I could think of was to pull my cock out and piss on my hands to keep them warm. So I was pissing on my hands, steam coming off them, it felt really good, and then this truck came up behind me so I’m thinking if I could get it to stop, maybe it could pull me up the hill. So I turn around to wave the truck down and I realised my fingers were still cramped up and I couldn’t push my cock back in my pants quick enough, so I had to wave the driver down with my cock still hanging out. Lucky the guy, although confused, stopped to help, which was a huge relief. The worst was yet to come as his truck was around two metres tall so he couldn’t see me in his rearview mirror, and when he tied the rope through my front forks, I didn’t click it was the wrong way to do it until he jumped back in the truck and started driving. I lost control of the steering as the bars locked up and I had to fight every inch of the way up the mountain to keep the bike upright, which was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. What made it worse was the driver couldn’t hear me screaming my lungs out over the roar of his diesel engine, and if I fell off the bike, I would have been dragged all the way to the top, whether I liked it or not. Long story short, I made it to the top, and one good thing to come from it I was given a shortcut and I made it by 2am and the boat departed at 6am.
Run us through some help you’ve had getting set up for this adventure ride.
Steve: When I took a break from adventure riding in 2012 to focus on starting Totem (Steve’s Business), I lost touch with the motorcycle industry for over five years. When we committed to our adventure ride, I made a few calls to some guys who I respected in the industry and had a good relationship with to see if we could get any help or advice. People like Steve Smith (Adventure Moto), Andy Wigan (Transmoto), Craig Hartley (Dalby Moto), Nick Dole (Teknik Motorsport), Mark Brown (Browns Graphics), Ben Monroe (formerly Deus), Greg Yager (RideADV), Max Sullivan, Tom Foster and even Sean Goldhawk (Yamaha – even though we are riding a KTM) were super supportive.
It’s a massive effort to organise an adventure ride of this scale, so here’s your chance to thank the crew that support you.
Steve: Top of the list is Kristen Bowen, Adam Smith, Matt Goldberg, Guatam Anand, Ian Murray and the team from YouTube – if it wasn’t for these guys, our company wouldn’t be in the unique position where we are today as leaders in the social video space and able to plan and afford such a crazy adventure. Then there’s Steve Smith – he was the first guy to step up and back us all the way. He believed in our adventure, providing unconditional support with products like Klim, Motoz Tyres, Metal Mule, Scorpion, Uni Filter, Outback Motortek, Seat Concepts, Pivot Pegz, Denali, Alt Rider, Roto Paks, Bark Busters, Forma boots, Icebreaker, MotionPro, Rocky Creek Designs, Giant Loop, Best Rest Products, Alpine Hearing Protection, and his family, particularly Jen and Monique. Then the lovely guys from Sea To Summit, including Tim McCartney-Snape, Rob McSporran and Nathalie Joachim who, after five years of no contact, stepped up to support another crazy adventure with products from Sea To Summit, Black Diamond, Camelbak, Wilderness Equipment, Gerber, Evolv, Bob Cooper, Soto, Go Tub, Human Gear, Delta. Finally, Nick Dole, because even though he was super-busy, he still fitted us in to get the job done and worked beyond the call of duty to help us get the suspension dialled and bike mods sorted.
You can follow Steve and Amelia’s adventure through the below links, and Transmoto will keep you updated with short stories and videos as their epic journey unfolds.