Biker's life is the road
By HEATHER SCOFIELD
FLAGLER BEACH -- Ask most of the folks filling bars and lining streets for Bike Week why they love to ride, and they'll tell you it's the racing asphalt beneath your feet, wind-in-your-hair kind of freedom a car can't offer. And for some, riding a motorcycle may even be a kind of lifestyle.
But for Englishman Ian Coates, it's more than that. It's life. Literally.
Coates has been traveling the world on his 1992 Honda Africa Twin XRV750CC since 1999. A visit to Daytona Beach's Bike Week started it all.
He bought an inexpensive bike and took to the road, seeing most of America, from Florida to California, one state at a time. He did that four times then left the bike behind with a friend in Flagler Beach. Then he got the 1992 Honda, he said, and took on the world.
And when the 65-year-old Coates says he's traveled the world, it doesn't mean he's just driven to or through a lot of places.
"When I go into a country, I don't go straight through; I go all around in it," Coates said, making a zig-zag gesture on the table in front of him.
And he's not kidding. Coates has been to more than 60 countries and has covered more than a million miles -- more of them off-road than on. He's thoroughly scoured the countryside of North America, Panama, England, New Zealand, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Trinidad. That's just a few.
"If I see a road and wonder where it goes, I follow it," Coates said. "I'm just as free as a bird."
And his journey's only half completed, Coates said. He still plans to visit Alaska, Japan, China, Siberia, Mongolia, Pakistan and Iran -- to name a few.
If a place or group of people interests him along the way, he stays awhile. Sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months. A two-month stay in a small Venezuelan town with no communications left friends and online followers convinced he was dead.
Coates knows his trek isn't without danger but said he's rarely encountered it. But if he ever gets hurt, stuck or lost, "it's bad," Coates said. Because often, there's nobody to help for hundreds of miles.
Coates doesn't carry a phone and keeps in touch with the world through the Internet. He never knows where he's going, how long he'll be there or when he'll be back.
"I make decisions in an instant," he said. Like the decision to ride along the banks of the world's longest river. Or the decision to ride atop the Andes mountains.
And he likes it that way.
Coates has a wife, two children, grandchildren and, now, a great-grandchild on the way back in England. He's only seen his wife, Judith, five times since 1999.
"I've been married for 40 years," Coates said, "but eight years of that doesn't count because I've been away."
They have a good marriage, the couple said. Judith is with him in Flagler Beach now for a two-week rendezvous before Coates sets out on the second half of his world adventure. Judith jokes that nothing much has changed since her husband handed over his car repair shop to their son, except now she doesn't get paid for the office work she does at the garage.
Absence really does make the heart grow fonder, Coates insisted and joked he thinks after all their years together Judith likes having him out of her hair.
Coates said the nice thing about living in England is life without debt. Even his family home is fully paid for.
"Unlike America, in England you don't buy it until you have the money for it," Coates said.
Coates pays for his adventures by "earning his keep" wherever he goes.. He doesn't get paid for his talks and appearances at school and other functions, but gets by selling the few things he carries with him and, more often, finds a farm to lend a hand on. He's a world cowboy, Coates said.
He rounds up cattle or works as a farmhand, feeding animals, fixing farm equipment or doing whatever is needed. And, in turn, people give him food, some "petrol" for his bike and a place to pitch his tent.
"I don't need much," Coates said.
Coates is convinced he's shaved 20 years from his mental and physical age with his stress-free life that lets him "smell the flowers or the roadkill" and everything that's "good and natural" in this world.