Two bundled-up figures riding Honda scooters loaded with gear arrive at the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park.
Fed up with the fast-paced, cynical world, videographers Michael Reid, a climbing guide from Iceland, and Yonatan Belik of Israel, embarked on a slow-speed, cross-country adventure to break the “Guinness Book of World Records” for the longest 50cc scooter trip.
“We haven’t had much adversity, except for the cold,” Reid said upon arriving in Southwest Colorado. He did badly bang up his toe on a rough road in Navajo country and has been riding with his foot elevated.
Inspiring compassionBy last week, the two adventurers had traveled 6,000 miles in 50 days riding across the northern states, then making a U-turn at San Francisco to head across the southern states. They are on track to hit 9,000 miles in 80 days, enough to break the record, while driving through 48 states.
Along the way, they are photographing and documenting people they meet in an effort to inspire understanding and compassion in an era of divisiveness, fear and fast-paced living.
Israel has a diverse population and polarization, Belik said, and he sees that that exists in the U.S. as well.
“Our goal is to amplify people’s stories, post them on social media, so others in the nation can get to know their fellow citizens,” he said. “Having meaningful interactions with strangers breaks down stereotypes and makes you realize there is so much BS being fed to us about ‘those other people’ as a way to separate us.”
They’ve interviewed artists, workers, families, the homeless and a host of other regular people who share a bit of their life story and dreams.
Sharing a mealWhen they blew a tire on the Navajo Nation south of Cortez, a family offered their help. Stereotypes that Reid and Belik had heard vanished in an instant.
“I’d never met a Native American. This family opened their hearts, we ate with their family, had great conversation. Vincent fixed our tire,” said Belik, 29. “We are learning their history, and want to experience Mesa Verde, Chimney Rock and Chaco.”
Making an effort to connect in a positive way with people nearby is a habit we should all get used to more, Reid said.
“I’m from Philly, and you are told that strangers do not have your best interests, but this trip, I’ve had to reprogram that mindset. We’re passing on that message,” he said.
“Even on this trip we hear, ‘Watch out for that next state,’ or ‘You will die if you stop in this area or that area.’ People have become internally scared of each other, and it is reinforced in the media. If you step past that barrier, you will grow, and so will the other person.”
Reid and Belik said they noticed they get the best treatment in poorer areas. They have been put up by strangers, fed and given clothing.
50cc scootersThe Honda Ruckus 50cc scooters draw attention and invite conversation, Belik said. The bikes’ 1.2 gallon tanks go for 120 miles.
“They are like passports through the physical and psychological borders of the United States,” he said.
Traveling the backroads, and sometimes highways, going 30 miles per hour has been pretty wild, and sometimes dangerous.
They’ve nearly been hit, flipped off by irate drivers, stopped by the police and have taken a crash or two on dirt roads.
“We’ve taken them properly off-road; they are small but durable,” Reid said.
‘Like a slow brew’You see more at slower speeds, appreciate more, meet more people, Reid, 32, said.
“The scenery is amazing. It’s cliché, but we don’t think about the destination; it really is about the journey at this speed,” he said. “You wave at someone, wave again, then just pull over and have a conversation. It is like slow brew, and you get to taste the flavor of the moment.”
Traveling on a shoestring budget, they have camped almost every night, including in the snow and freezing cold of the Rocky Mountains. The suffering is countered by the natural splendor of traveling through national parks, beaches, deserts and redwood forests.
In Cortez, after a 200-mile, below-freezing ride, the Bridge Shelter put them up for the night, “another chance to hear people’s stories,” Belik said. “The shelter was brand new; it shows a community that cares.”
Gallery event plannedAt the end of their epic scooter trip, they plan to host a gallery event in Washington, D.C., that showcases the photos and stories of all the people they met.
This is the second world record for the duo as part of the Wheeling for the World collective. In 2018, they were part of a team that set the record for the greatest distance on a kick-push scooter in 24 hours, covering 1,630 miles.
Their mission is to continue the format of unique travel in other polarized areas and countries. Their next record-breaking quest is riding electric unicycles 600 miles across Israel while meeting and documenting diverse groups of people.
“We want to make it a reality TV show, and again amplify people’s stories, humanize different groups,” Belik said.