Story By Pete Peterson • Photo By Robert “Murph” Murphy
Ever had the thought of just leaving it all and riding off on your motorcycle to travel the world? It’s just a fun daydream for most, but Robert “Murph” Murphy is doing it. The adventure started in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 2009 as a trip to get away from old habits after getting out of rehab for alcohol abuse and to, “just see what’s between [Florida and Washington state]… it was only supposed to be a two or three month trip, just to, ‘Get out of Dodge,’ and regroup.” Two years later, he’d crossed the US back and forth several times, then headed to Europe where his 2004 BMW 1150 gained a driven-wheel sidecar.
When you started telling your friends, ‘I’m gonna keep going,’ or, ‘I’m not turning back yet,’ what was their reaction?
You know, I’ve been kind of like a lone wolf for a long time. I always did things my way from a very early age. My first trip was when I was fifteen. I left school, I didn’t finish school; I put a backpack on my back and went off to Switzerland [from Ireland] to climb the Matterhorn. I always did my own &%$# and kinda, arrogantly maybe, always thought that, you know, I don’t need a whole lot of people around me to do what I want to do and be happy.
Why not just make this trip in a car?
Because I’ve always been a motorcyclist. My first motorcycle was a Bultaco 250 at 15 [years old]. I’ve always loved motorcycles. I’ve had all sorts of cars, but for some reason, you know, that’s a really good question I never really thought about why I chose [a motorcycle]… Briefly I had toyed about doing this in a pretty famous F350 4X4 [a Turtle Expedition] owned by Gary and Monica Wescott… it’s a kind of an F350 with a very compact, self contained, round-the-world camper on the back… and I was toying [with] doing it in that because when I filed bankruptcy and lost my home, I figured, when all this is over and I get a little older I’m gong to need a place to live… I’m glad I didn’t because nothing is the same in a car or a big camper vehicle. When you’re on a motorcycle, you’re extremely exposed to everything. To the elements, to danger, to accidents, to everything. You’re extremely vulnerable. But you’re also extremely approachable and open. And it’s a tougher way to see the world, because when it rains, you’re gonna get wet. In a car or vehicle, it’s pretty easy. When it rains you just stay in the vehicle, or you climb into the back and get out of the way, you know?
Do you feel like you were born in the wrong era?
Tell me when you were supposed to be born.
Probably post-war, there’s a possibility of pre-war in the 1910s but it was a bit too rough then. But probably 40s, that way I’d be growing up in the 60s when there was still a lot of new, unexplored stuff to be done. Now, pretty much everything has been explored and beaten to death and unfortunately now I think the world has become so over-used and so over-exploited that it’s kind of [like] governments and systems and people are in a race to save what we have left, rather than explore it. But there’s nothing left to be done. It’s all been done a hundred times over.
Was there ever a low point where you considered quitting?
No, I never considered quitting. I did question myself a couple of times, ‘What the %#@$ am I doing?’ And the very first day that I left Florida was one of them. I left Ft. Lauderdale at five am, it was still dark out, I hadn’t even gotten to Port St. Lucie or Jupiter, which is only [about] 100 miles up the road. It was dark, I was the only one on the road save for a couple of trucks, and the thought of riding up to Seattle, I thought, ‘I’m leaving all this behind. I’m leaving the comfort and security of a home, with my big six car garage, and my tools, and all of these things.’ And my mind just started playing tricks with me. I was very close to just turning back and saying, ‘Okay, I’ll just wait a week, regroup, and I’ll see if I can plan this better.’ After the first tank of gas, I got to where I had to fill up and then the light started to come into the morning and it got a little easier. I think it was just those first hours of riding in the dark that really just scared me… I felt like, ‘I’m stepping off a cliff,’ that first tank of gas was kind of one of my biggest steps that I feel, psychologically, that I took. I can still feel it now, when I talk about it. I can still feel that fear and trepidation that I had those first hours of just, ‘It seems so monumental.’
When you set off, do you put a point on the map and that’s where you’re going, or is it a general push in that direction on the compass, or are you just free flowing and hope to get to somewhere cool?
It’s usually because of somebody or some place that I want to go to. It’s usually for a reason, it’s usually somebody I’ve met or… Nordkapp was just because it’s Nordkapp and it’s supposed to be the most northern point in Europe, which it’s not. But everybody thinks it is. This time around, I have a cause that I ride for, which is Ride Away Cancer. It was started by me last year in September in Eindhoven as an accompaniment to my friend John Nikas who has Drive Away Cancer in the US. The website is www.driveawaycancernow.org… I’m in Eindhoven, the Netherlands last year, I’m buying a map of Russia. There’s a young lady at the register, she says, ‘I’ve see you on TV.’ She was so excited to see me I said why don’t you come out, I’ll take a picture of you on my bike, and I’ll email it to you… She got off the bike, and she looked a little bit misty-eyed. She said, ‘Is there somewhere I can mail you something?’ I said, ‘No, not really.’ She said, ‘Well I want to give you something. It’s a necklace that I made for my boyfriend. He died of cancer a year ago.’ She said, ‘Would you just throw it in the sidecar somewhere and, you know, give him the ride that he never had?’… And that’s when Ride Away Cancer was born… Now I give people sick with cancer a ride in the sidecar, which gets them away from their suffering and pain for a half hour.
What’s the most valuable life lesson your journey has either taught you or confirmed with you?
A few, actually. That you don’t need a lot of money to be happy. And the less you worry and the less you worry about things and the less you try to control your life, the more control and fun you’ll have with it.
You can help keep the wheels turning by buying a few decals or donate at www.wherethehellismurph.com. Murph is planning to upgrade from a blog to a website, so any web designers that want to help out can contact Murph through Facebook @ Irish Murph.