RICHARD DeNIKE: @ADVROVER
By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 12/18/17
For the fifty eighth installment in our ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orcas we could not be more pleased to share our conversation with Richard DeNike. You may know him as the @ADVROVER.
Simply put, Richard’s travels are important. Not only is he a talented photographer and inspirational adventure rider, his full time motorcycle travel comes with a stark reminder about the significance of embracing the most important things in life. He has been travelling and living off his motorcycle since September of 2016. He hit the road just months after losing his older brother to suicide and coming to terms with some changes he wanted to make in his own life. Now he is riding the country to make the most of his days and human connections, while also using that time promote suicide prevention awareness.
Richard returned one of the more thoughtful and honest interviews I have ever published here at DirtOrcas.com. and I am especially grateful for his candor. He is a fantastic reminder that our time here is not only fleeting but also a gift.
At the time of this publication we are just a week from Christmas. Due to the rise in suicides around the holidays, I thought this interview was especially timely. If you or anyone you know may be in need of assistance you can visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website to learn more about contacting someone for help.
Check out our interview below and enjoy the fabulous picture from Richards travels.
What made you decide to travel extensively on a motorcycle?
About six or seven years ago, for reasons still unknown to me, an idea beamed into my head to ride a motorcycle from Alaska to the bottom of South America. I never did anything with it, other than put it off. I had no credible experience with motorcycles, and I don’t think it would have been a popular idea with my family anyhow.
On June 19, 2016 I tragically and unexpectedly lost my older brother to suicide. We were very close and I didn’t see it coming. At the time I was already considering taking a step back from my work. I was making good money, but lacking fulfillment. Just a few days after my brother passed I was in traffic on the freeway heading for my younger sister’s wedding. I was in the left lane at a standstill when an adventure bike with the big metal boxes whizzed by me in the HOV lane. I cocked my head looking at it and remember saying to myself, “that’s it…that’s what I’m doing.” That night in the hotel room I was researching bikes and the lifestyle. Less than two weeks later I bought the bike, and I left about six weeks after that, September 11, 2016.
Did you plan your trip, or have a particular destination in mind?
Neither. Not at all. After buying the bike, and during my family’s unending confusion of losing my brother, I was only able to dedicate about three to four weeks towards trip preparation, which was mostly gear and bike related. Fall was coming fast so I knew I needed to get on the road. I definitely wasn’t ready for Alaska, much less Central or South America. Because I had seen a bit of the world already, I knew I needed to see my own country. It was time. I have too often been queried by natives of other countries to explain parts of the US, “…tell me about BBQ in Kentucky…” or “…what is New Hampshire like in the fall?” or “…what about Times Square?” I would typically respond with, “I don’t know. I’ve never been there.” I have felt like a very ignorant American. So, I headed east and with no real time frame. However, I figured it would only take me two to three months to circumnavigate the States and could be back by December – it’s going on 15 months and I’m no where near done. I ended up bartending in Key West for a bit. I heard about Key West at a gas station in Utah…
What do you consider to be your place of work?
At the moment, I don’t. Prior to June 2016, I was a Commercial Real Estate Broker in Seattle selling large apartment complexes. Prior to that was a whirlwind of various undertakings over a very dedicated period: Commercial Pilot Program, multiple bachelor degrees, learning Chinese in China, military and work for the State Department. I had myopic vision in my pursuits and a goal to work in a very specialized government occupation. Ironically, after all that, bartending has been my source of income while on the road. I am now open to what the road brings me. I’m eager to learn any new trades or skills along the way. It’s extremely liberating.
I’ve been shooting photos for a long time, so if nothing else maybe my photography will be multi-purpose as I move forward.
Tell me about your bike. What do you call it?
I have a 2017 BMW R1200GS Adventure. I actually began my trip with a 2016 GSA, but sadly, an unavoidable collision with a parked car in Key West was the end of “Bethany.” My 2017’s name is effectively, “Gertrude.” The names are important to me. This bike is basically my workhorse, my mule, so I wanted a good name for my trusty steed. Bethany was a good fit at first. As I got more intimate with knowing the BMW’s strength and limitless capabilities – it effortlessly punching into new destinations – a rough, strong German name came to mind…Gertrude. I haphazardly researched it and actually found it to mean “spear of strength.” The Germanic elements ger “spear” and thrud “strength.” Bingo.
When and how did you get it?
I bought my 2016 from BMW Motorcycles of Seattle, who did a great job. I was much less informed then, and as I like to say, was “on a mission from God.” There was no deterring me. I actually never even test rode the bike, and it was delivered to my buddy’s place prior to me informing my parents of my plans and the purchase! I look back on all of it now and it just makes me laugh. I’m sure the dealership came out ahead on that one…
After losing the 2016 bike (Florida insurance appraisers will declare a “total loss” for nearly no damage), I relentlessly worked the phones and the Internet for a replacement. Ultimately, Zac Wiley of MAX Motorcycles in Connecticut made the deal happen on the 2017. Zac catered to my every request and actually had the bike shipped to the bar I was working at in Key West. I even had to tell a patron to hold on when he ordered a beer so I could go outside and help back the bike out of the covered trailer! It couldn’t have been a smoother transaction. I was recently able to shake Zac’s hand when traveling down through the Northeast.
What other bikes did you consider and what made you ultimately pull the trigger on the one you bought?
I had never ridden anything remotely close to this size. The biggest bike I’d ridden for any real length of time was a 125cc “scooter” from Saigon to Hanoi, Vietnam. Now, THAT was nuts.
I hadn’t even read much on the subject of adventure riding. I did very little forum reading, and mostly examined the bike in person as I read the description out of the catalog at the dealership. At the time, I was far less concerned with resale value, cost of maintenance, or even look and color. However, I did know I wanted reliable and safe. I liked the idea of a driveshaft over a chain, and I really liked the idea of a seemingly endless fuel capacity for a motorcycle. If I recall correctly, I believe I read Long Way Round: Chasing Shadows Across the World by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman during the week before finalizing the purchase. Because I knew so little about adventure riding, I believed if they went around the world successfully on this bike in 2004, BMW must have refined it to near perfection by now. I can confidently say I never considered another manufacturer. Talk about a great marketing move on their part…
Interestingly, after 12,000 miles on the 2016, I had the opportunity to look around at other manufacturers when hunting for my second bike. I didn’t look then either.
I have since opened my mind to strengths of other bikes. And truthfully, I have noticed a few shortcomings of the 1200GSA, but simply put these bikes are built with ‘round the world travel in mind, and never cease to amaze me. To date, between the two GSAs, still not one legitimate issue.
Have you made any upgrades or changes to it?
For the most part, I haven’t upgraded anything beyond protection and lighting. First and best thing anyone can do is equip more light. When you think you have enough, add more. You can never have enough light – to see and to be seen. I couldn’t be happier with Clearwater Lights. I feel like their lighting systems can burn down trees, and their customer service is beyond reproach; truly, a cut above.
Bike protection – I wanted everything protected that could leave me immobilized if compromised: a bombproof skid plate protecting the downpipes and case (by Black Dog Cycle Works), radiator guards (by Black Dog Cycle Works), guard for the kickstand kill switch (by Touratech), crash bar support bars (by Touratech), rear brake reservoir protector (by AltRider), headlight guard (by AltRider) and hand guard/lever protection (by Barkbusters). I would still like to add a slightly louder exhaust to be heard by others for safety, and additional brake lighting.
These days, electronics are the bane of our existence, but a necessary evil. One of the best “modifications” I made was drilling a hole through the right pannier and cementing a Battery Tender USB adaptor inside, which I powered directly off the battery. I added a 3-port USB splitter and am now able to charge multiple electronic devices (batteries, headlamp, camp speaker, etc.) inside the waterproof box. I do this while on the road, before reach my next camp spot, or even when the ignition is off overnight (Sena Bluetooth, GoPro, etc). This keeps everything moving forward and me on the road.
What is your favorite part about it living/working off of your bike?
This is easy to answer, but tough too because so much comes to mind.
Freedom. I’ll leave it at that on this one.
Bikes like these break the barriers between people. The pomp and circumstance of a traveling, loaded down motorcycle (specifically, adventure) screams “not normal!” In my experience, people can’t help but wonder where you’re from and where you’re heading, typically followed by wondering how they can help. Most would love to make an adventure like this happen. Many would love to have done it when they were younger. No longer are race, cultural differences, opinions, and political or religious views relevant.
I also love the challenges presented every single day I’m on the bike. No two days are alike. Every time I think “I’ve got everything dialed or figured out”, something unforeseen raises its head. Something goes “wrong.” I love that. This massages the muscle of the mind, which keeps my problem solving abilities in full swing and my resolve well oiled. Most of all, it keeps me humble – I’m never too smart to learn a lesson.
What is your least favorite part about it?
I would say either riding in torrential rain, or aloof drivers. Neither of which are good for my health. I have almost been smoked many times by shitty drivers.
How many miles have you put on your bike?
On the 2017, I’m nearing 14,000 since taking delivery in April. In addition to what I had completed on my 2016, I’m just over 27,000 so far on this trip.
What is the best place you have taken it?
Newfoundland. I did mention earlier I was forcing myself to stay in the United States for now. Everything also depends on weather. As I began to build serious miles within the contiguous 48, I pushed further north to cooler climate during this last summer. I entered Ontario, Canada through Michigan and made my way over to where I thought I’d turn around – Nova Scotia. Before I knew it I was on a seven-hour ferry for Newfoundland. I also decided to take another ferry to Labrador for a few days. I returned back to Newfoundland and had originally planned on spending six days riding around the island. Newfoundland is…huge! For many great reasons, I ended up rescheduling my return ferry reservation to Nova Scotia six different times. I rode approximately 5,000 miles in just under a month on that rock alone. I felt like I didn’t want to leave. The people of Newfoundland are the nicest people I have ever come across to this day. They have yet to be tarnished by the filth and bullshit of the outside world. Their first question is, “have you had your supper?” The geography is extremely dynamic and the riding is as much fun as it is challenging. Watch out for moose!
Is there just one?
Because I’ve mostly ridden the states exclusively, I’d say Utah, Colorado, and the general area where Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia converge are all great for riding.
Favorite road you’ve driven?
This is tough. I think Devil’s Triangle in Tennessee wins over the well-known Deals Gap (Tail of the Dragon). But, there are just so many beautiful, curvy roads in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Montana. Best recommendation I can make to anyone riding in the states is to pick up Butler Maps for the area you’re riding.
In one word, what describes your approach to life?
Spontaneity. Say yes to opportunities that come your way. Too many times since beginning this trip and speaking openly about my brother have I heard people tell similar stories of loved ones, or people they know – healthy, fantastic people – unexpectedly struck by cancer or a drunk driver. In the past year and a half, I have whole-heartedly embraced the fact I don’t want to wait till I’m a senior citizen to start doing the things I want to do. I believe if you want something to transpire, lean into and trust it will work out. But, don’t wait. There will never be a PERFECT time to make a move in life. Things will fall into place as you set out on your journey, I assure you.
If you could give a person one piece of advice when thinking about living off of a bike, what would you tell them?
This is more of a life philosophy I live by, but I find myself saying or thinking it every day in my travels: Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want. I have found the best experiences and people I’ve met in my travels happen when something doesn’t go as expected. Embracing the seemingly adverse circumstances and making the most of the situation is vital to creating long-lasting relationships, discovering unexpected places or building experience in an area of weakness. Being prepared is great, and I definitely am, but sometimes I wish I wasn’t as prepared, or my bike was less reliable so I could allow more opportunity for what might develop!
Also, take the time to keep a journal. I wish I had kept more of one during the first few months of my trip. You’ll never regret keeping a journal.
It takes a special kind of person to recognize that the journey, not the destination, is the point of life. Travelers know this. Was there a point in your life where you became conscious that you were one of those people?
It happens for me to this day constantly; I’m always reminded of this. In certain aspects of my life, I plan to a T. Not with traveling. I often am only traveling via the general cardinal direction of a compass, rather than maps or GPS. Being open to every moment of the day and where it might lead is the only way to travel, in my opinion. Of course, sometimes a point of interest draws your bearing, but being open to opportunities on the way there is most important. It’s the stuff you can’t plan or predict that’s most memorable.
You have found a strong place in the community of adventure riders. What values or experiences in life apply to your time on the road?
You get what you give: One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over extensive traveling, especially this motorcycle trip, is you get what you give. I believe if you put yourself out there with a smile and light-hearted attitude, you’ll be rewarded with kindness in return.
Always keep perspective in mind. Just because someone else had an unpleasant experience doesn’t necessarily mean you will too. People offer suggestions or tend to lend advice on places to avoid. Often it’s because they’ve had a bad experience, or even worse, hearsay. I once intentionally stopped in a town for a few hours – Browning, Montana – after I’d been told by over a dozen people not to stop in town; to make sure I have plenty of fuel. Needless to say, I had a great time. People fear what they don’t understand, and most of the time it can be their own negative attitude that caused an unfavorable memory.
I admire your outside the box approach to career and home. Do you see yourself as someone who took a leap of faith to live in an unconventional way or do you think it kind of just happened?
A little of both, really. I used to plan things out religiously. My schooling, military, and career planning all had structure, direction and purpose. After losing my brother, societies expected way of living life basically became comical to me. The thought of working non-stop in a 9 to 5 scares the shit out of me. I need non-monotony. I need no two days to be alike. I need to meet new people from all walks of life constantly.
Life has just become very clear and simple to me. Several things that were important to me before no longer have any business in my life. Simple things I didn’t appreciate as much before I value tremendously today. I no longer want to put anything off in my life. At this point I have left orchestration behind and just let the road take me where it wants to. You must be flexible, adaptable, and open to opportunity.
Where do you want to go next, geographically and career wise?
It’s a fascinating question because those two things could very well go hand-in-hand. Meaning, I’m working on an idea that would put a whole new spin on “round the world” via motorcycle (multiple puns not intended). I just want to ride forever. From this point, I foresee riding and publically speaking along the way for cause(s), including suicide awareness, drug addiction and depression. I’m hoping that may help support some of the travel.
In my immediate future, I do need to make some more traveling money. But, if things go even remotely close to how I have it currently pictured, I will be in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska by next summer, and if that happens there’s no way I’m doing anything but pointing the bike for Ushuaia, Argentina. From there, who knows? We’ll see which way the wind is blowing. Cape Town? New Zealand?