A ride around the world

Paul Whyte

Photos courtesy of Bridget McCutchen by Claire Karr

When one thinks of an adventure some might imagine a week in the Boundary Waters, or perhaps a hike up the Gunflint Trail might be enough to qualify.

Bridget McCutchen set her sights a bit higher. At just 21 years old, McCutchen wishes to be the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe on a motorcycle.

The current record holder is Henry Crew from London, England, who made his journey at the age of 23.

The feat itself isn’t exactly new. Carl Stearns Clancy is marked as the first to do so in 1912. He completed more than 18,000 miles in an era where gas stations, repair shops and even paved roads were scarce.

But if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. McCutchen believes she is up to the challenge.
While advances in technology, infrastructure and civilization might make the journey somewhat more bearable than what Clancy faced more than 100 years ago, it will be no walk in the park.

Some might be familiar with Long Way Round with Ewan McGregor with his own motorcycle adventures. This is a long-distance trip even Obi Wan with a budget and crew considers as something noteworthy and difficult.

Spending some of her earliest years overseas on naval bases, McCutchen and her family settled in Mason, Wis. in 2004.

“We didn’t have any machinery and we had to do everything ourselves, then we got a Skid-steer and everything got better ... I like to joke that I was raised with dogs and cows in a field and people think I’m joking. I spent most of my time outdoors exploring, I didn’t have a lot of socialization as a kid with kids my age, it helped me develop at an age before anyone else told me what I should be doing,” McCutchen said.

On a blustery mid-November morning with snowflakes in the air, McCutchen rode up on her black Kawasaki Ninja. She walked into the coffee shop looking like she was ready for a mission to space, decked out in red plastic calf-length motorcycle boots, a fully insulated suit with more layers underneath, a white helmet with visor along with a face mask somehow befitting a fighter pilot.

We had the chance to talk with McCutchen about some of her recent adventures and her aspirations of taking to the road on her greatest adventure yet.

Reader: This is not your first adventure. You were on a tall ship of sorts?

McCutchen: Yes, on Dec. 7, 2019, I went to the Lady Washington, which is a Tall Ship based out of Aberdeen, Washington. She’s a recreation of the first American flagged vessel to establish trade routes with Japan. She’s an education vessel, she’s designed to take kids out on day trips and teach them about maritime history. Specifically, she was sent to pursue things for Washington and, surprise surprise, they didn’t do well at first, no one did well with the natives ... She mainly operates around California and I spent eight months there and I learned a lot. That was the start of my maritime career.

Reader: I understand your maritime career is not exactly over.

McCutchen: No, I just got my First Mate license. I’m now a licensed Mate in the Great Lakes and inland waters. I’ve got a 100-ton Mate Great Lakes license with an endorsement of sailed vessels. Which means I can operate something like the ferry or motorized boat with a 100 tons or less. I have a 200-ton Great Lakes Mate license without a sail. It has to do with the gross tonnage, what they can carry more than what they weigh.

Reader: So are you also attending what I call WITC, but now Northwoods College?

McCutchen: I did a semester last year as a marine technician. I wanted a strong base knowledge of small marine motors, like outboards, inboards, diesels. I just went for the first semester because the other semesters are designed for people working with more modern outboard engines, which isn’t something I want to do. I wanted a base to further my experience on motors.

Reader: Let’s talk about motorcycles. When did this interest take hold? I’m going to guess it was with the farm.

McCutchen: My older brother got a motorcycle and he was the first person in our family to get a motorcycle, this is actually his motorcycle suit. Also, the first motorcycle suit in the family. He rode a motorcycle all year, he rode it in the winter. He had a sidecar and it was crazy.

Reader: I was a little worried for you coming here because it is snowing and maybe a little slick in spots.

McCutchen: It’s actually not that bad today. It’s warm enough that once it hits the ground it melts. Water is fine, ice is bad. My brother, Michael, did it for many years and then started a family and decided it wasn’t the best (laughs). Then my other brother, Thomas, once he graduated college, he got a motorcycle and then decided to go down to South America. That was in 2020. He got all the way down to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Him and his best friend got stuck there for awhile and they were running out of money and they had to come home. Their motorcycles are still stuck in Argentina.

Reader: Is there any hope to recover them?

McCutchen: There’s hope somewhere.

Reader: This brings me to personal influences. Was him taking this trip something that led to, “Maybe I want to do something like this?”
McCutchen: It’s directly Thomas’ fault, that’s for sure. I was at his house and was like “Bridget, did you know the youngest person on a motorcycle is 23?” I was like, “OK?” And he was like “you’re 20, you should do it!” Then I started thinking about it, “I could do that, that’s something I could do.” I considered it for awhile and was like “Yeah, send it! Let’s do it!”

Reader: I was looking at your Go Fund Me page and I noticed this short but rather decent list of cities that you have been to. You racked up 15,000 miles, actually more like 16,000. When did you put this time in?

McCutchen: Since May of this year (2021). I got the motorcycle last year (2020) and I hadn’t really gone anywhere because I got it late in the season and there wasn’t any time. I wasn’t really familiar with it and it was scary. My first motorcycle trip was to Aberdeen, Washington, to visit a lady and my sister who was working there over the summer. That was 1,800 miles one way. I did about 600 to 700 miles a day and it took me three days. I stayed there for two weeks and helped out with the ship and did some repairs. It took me three days to come home.

Reader: So let’s switch gears to the topic at hand, which is circumnavigating the globe as we know it on a motorcycle. If everything works out, what is the earliest you’re going to try to do this?

McCutchen: May of 2022.

Reader: How long is this going to take?

McCutchen: So, the minimum requirement for the record is 24,900 miles. If everything went really well, four to five months. With delays, which there’s sure to be at least one, through the summer. My goal for sure is not to be in Russia in the winter. The fastest time isn’t really the record to beat. The fastest time around the world on a motorcycle is like nine days. There’s other requirements for the record which is basically opposing points. So like how the North and the South Pole are the farthest they can be away from each other. So, Chile and then parts of Mongolia, China or Russia would meet that.

Reader: I did look up Henry Crew who did this and apparently he went all the way down to Australia.

McCutchen: I do not intend to go to Australia at this moment. Yes, I’m pretty much going the same way my brother Thomas went, through Chile. They wanted to go down to the end of the world and I’ll be going down that way too.

Reader: So let’s talk about the projected route.

McCutchen: Yeah. It would be going from the Great Lakes down to the Gulf of Mexico, hugging the coast. Then down through Mexico, basically as far as I can get on land, but there is something called the Darien Gap. There’s no roads that go over the Darien Gap, so you have to go on a boat and there’s plenty of boats that take adventure riders. That’s how my brother got across it. It’s something like 500 miles and there’s a bunch of swamps, so you have to get across that, then you’re in South America. My best friend’s family is in Argentina, so I’ll probably chill out with them for a second and then down to Chile, and the end of the world. Then back up the east coast of South America, about half way up. From there I’ll either fly or ship out of a major shipping port and either get to Spain or Ireland. From there, there’s ferries to get to France. I do want to spend a little time in Ireland. I do have a lot of family connections there. A lot of old family history there. Might go to England from there.

From there across Europe: Germany, Poland, I have family in the Ukraine, and then Russia, Kazakhstan, and then Mongolia. I really want to go to Japan, my family spent a lot of time in Japan.

Reader: Is there gas everywhere you’re going?

McCutchen: There is. The world runs on gas. There’s pretty much gas everywhere. I will have auxiliary tanks with me and hopefully I can upgrade the motorcycle’s tank to a slightly bigger size. The motorcycle I’m planning
to get is 4.8 gallons.

Reader: Can you tell me the motorcycle again? It’s not the Ninja.

McCutchen: It’s not the Ninja, it’s the Kawasaki Versys 300. The typical Kawasaki adventure bike, it’s like the KLR (650), that’s the one my brother took. This one is the smaller version. You don’t need a lot of power. If I had to, I could take the Ninja.

Reader: The Ninja has always struck me as a street bike. I’d imagine there’s not always going to be perfectly paved roads everywhere you’re going.

McCutchen: No, you could take a scooter around the world if you were so inclined. The bike doesn’t matter just as long as it’s not too heavy that you can’t pick it up. The engine that’s in my Ninja right now is the same that’s in the Versys. Henry Crew did it on a Ducati Scrambler.

Reader: Have you considered cultural differences along the way?

McCutchen: I’m not going to Iraq. Most of the countries I’m going through are OK as far as their views on women. When you’re in a motorcycle suit you really can’t tell. I’ve been doing a lot of research on other women who have done the same trip and they haven’t had any issues. It’s actually easier for women to do this sort of thing because everyone wants to help them. “I need to help you because you’re a woman and you clearly can’t do it yourself.” So for the most part I’m not too concerned about it, but of course there’s going to be something somewhere. That’s not going to stop me. I will be avoiding all active war zones.

Reader: OK, well here’s some more fun stuff. So, you have this not very large bike, what’s some of the most important gear that you’re for sure going to have?

McCutchen: Other than the bike, it’s the motorcycle suit. Then there’s my best impression of ski boots. I went out to Erie again and did it one shot, so I went 900 miles and went overnight and it took me 16 hours. So, 16 hours on a motorcycle, have fun with that. But you get really tired sitting in one position, so I could let my feet hang and they touched the road so this got ground off (she points at the wear on her boots). It was only every once and a while, but during 16 hours it was a bit. Number one, safety gear. Safety gear doesn’t look cool. When I wear this I look like the Michelin Man, like a big marshmallow, but it’s really important.

Other than that, a stove. I need to be able to boil water. I have this WhisperLite stove, which is a very small and the great thing about it is that it can run on white gas, gasoline, diesel. So if I can fuel my bike I can cook with this stove. There’s also bags. They keep my stuff dry. If my stuff is wet, it’s no good. I have four waterproof bags right now: a tank bag, two large panniers, and a bag on my back. They’re soft; if you go down and biff it, it’s nice to have soft panniers. You can tear them, but you can sew them back together. Other than that, a down sleeping bag. With down, it can shrink and expand into where you need it.

Reader: You bringing a tool box?

McCutchen: Yes, with the Ninjas and Kawasakis there’s a tool box that has pretty much everything you could do without having a shop. With the little tool kit on my motorcycle you can take the tires off, change the spark plugs, do little stuff. I can’t take the engine apart, but I shouldn’t be doing that on the side of a dirty road anyway.

Reader: This leads me to food options. How much water do you typically carry? I mean in the United States there’s usually a gas station and getting a bottle of water or filling a bottle of water is no big deal, but eventually you’ll end up 500 miles from the middle of nowhere.

McCutchen: Yup. Eventually. I’m planning on have extra water skins with me, so they’re like a bag. And I also have a Camelback that I wear on me so I don’t have to stop. So, I can go 300 miles on one tank of gas, which is typically three or four hours depending on how fast I’m going. Maybe four to five if I’m going really slow. I’ll have that along with a water filter.

As far as food goes, wherever there’s humans there’s food. And outside of Europe and the United States, food is really cheap. It’s not like here where there’s a store you get food from. You can just go up to someone and say, “Do you have food? And they’ll be like, ‘Sure.’”

Reader: Do you have any plans of documentation? Do you have plans of sharing with people what you’re doing?

McCutchen: I’ll be sharing things to Instagram and Facebook, and I’ll have a GPS tracker on my bike so people can see where I am. That sort of thing.

Reader: I guess it’s worth mentioning sponsorships.

McCutchen: Currently I have one sponsor. It’s True North Sailing (Bayfield, Wis.). They got me the tent that I’ll be using on the trip. I have camped with this tent before, it’s the tent that I wanted. Currently that’s it. I’m working on drafting a letter to hopefully send out and get the motorcycle that I want, the Kawasaki. Which would be great.

Reader: So, everything works out, you circumnavigate the world, you’re the youngest person to do such a thing; what’s next for Bridget?

McCutchen: Continue my maritime career. I work for the ferry in Bayfield. I want to go back to the tall ships, go back to the ocean. That’s where my heart is going. Get my Captain’s license.

Bridget McCutchen is looking for sponsors and donors to help her on her trip round the globe. Specifically she hopes to get help obtaining a Kawasaki Versys 300 for the journey, as well as funds for travel expenses. She can be reached by email at bike.will.travel@gmail.com or check out her Go Fund Me page.