Two Banbury adventurers have returned home after circumnavigating the world in a scooter sidecar combo.
The return to Banbury on Sunday by Matt Bishop and Reece Gilkes marked the end of a 455-day, 34,000-mile, 50-country, five-continent odyssey which was undertaken to highlight and support the fight against modern slavery.
The route they chose was to head south, then east, passing through Europe, Africa, the Americas, Asia and returning via Russia.
Inexperienced as either worldly travellers or moped riders the challenges the childhood friends faced were both expected and unexpected.
Matt said: “Before we left we organised a big ride out and organised the route and bit off way more than we could chew in terms of the number of charities we were going to visit and blogs we were going to do.
“The first six weeks we were so stressed that we weren’t managing to cover the slavery issue enough, that it was just not enjoyable.”
Their vehicle of choice was a 25hp, Honda SH300 moped secured to a bespoke sidecar, chosen for what the pair believed would give them the best possible mechanical chance of completing the trip. This theory was put to the test when they reached Ethiopia.
Reece said: “Before we left people advised us that this or that might happen but no one mentioned the clutch might break so when it happened we had no idea what had gone wrong.
“Our first idea was to pick this scooter because we thought it would be everywhere and we could get parts anywhere, which really wasn’t the case.”
The scarcity of scooters in Africa meant a three-week wait while parts were shipped over. It also meant a dearth of competent mechanics who could repair the scooter so the pair asked their online followers to help.
Reece said: “We learnt quickly. Most places we went no one really knew how to fix it and in places like Africa they were very rough with the scooter and would break more things than they would mend.”
After leaving Africa, the pair spent a further five months traversing the Americas, finally completing the journey via Russia, where they were treated like rock stars.
Matt said: “Coming back from Vladivostok it was pretty much constant staying in people’s houses. They are unbelievably friendly to bikers in Russia. We were having people stood with banners outside of towns. We had to start turning people’s offers down.”
The return home for Matt and Reece is by no means the end of the story, merely the beginning of the next chapter.
The next step will see the pair embark on a number of projects related to the trip in order to impart the knowledge they gleaned to others and further highlight the warning signs of modern slavery.
Reece said: “I guess we have a year of promotion, if you like. We are talking at quite a few motorcycle and other events up and down the country during the summer. Hopefully we can visit schools and chat about it there.”
The former Warriner School students are in talks to return to their alma mater.
Matt said: “We talked to them before we left and hopefully we can get back in there.
“When the dust settles we’ll go to loads I would imagine.”
Technology savvy the entire trip was continually documented with the use of blogs, vlogs, images and recorded interviews with the many people they met along the way. It is information they also hope to give life to.
Reece said: “If we can we will put together a film for it and write a book as well. We have a few ideas.”
Spending 455 days away from home, enduring extreme temperatures, having to become scooter mechanics on the fly, succumbing to food poisoning in Africa and a whole array of once-in-a-lifetime experiences has allowed the pair to learn a little about themselves.
Reece said: “We never found ourselves in a difficult scenario but we could have, had we not been relaxed about it. So keeping calm is my tip.”
Matt added: “I learnt the limit I can go to terms of stress and environmental limits. I can go to about plus 35 degrees to minus 20 before I start to get really angry or annoyed.”
Schools seeking to invite the pair should visit www.asseenfromthesidecar.org.
The main objective for the pair was to highlight the global problem of slavery which it is estimated effects some 40 million people.
Matt and Reece met with representatives from anti-slavery charities from the UK to Russia with the message becoming all too familiar.
Matt said: “We visited maybe ten different charities on route and went to chat with them about modern slavery and human trafficking, what they are doing to fight it and what problems they have, each one was just as mind blowing as the last really.
“They all have a similar trait of coercion which exists in the same way.”
Matt added: “The stories are the same, you are desperate, hoping for a better life, someone tells you you can have it and it turns out they were just using you for their own gain.”
In addition to charity workers the duo met genuine survivors of modern slavery with incredible tales of the determination and bravery they had to muster to break free of their enforced captivity.
Matt said: “The first lady we met, by sheer chance, was in a storytelling workshop in Athens. We were waiting for the bike to ship and looking for something to do.
“The task was to listen to a story from the person sat opposite you. She told me her story of how she had been a guerilla fighter in Zimbabwe. She left that and was offered a job in Greece in textiles and ended up getting there and she became a domestic servant.
“She was trapped in slavery for years before she finally got out and spend her life helping others escape it.”
The pair hope that the media coverage they generated will go some way in highlighting a very real problem. The pair also set about raising money for anti-slavery charities and have raised just over £6,000 so far.