The second time’s the charm: Meet the man re-attempting his epic Australian voyage 40 years on

The second time’s the charm: Meet the man re-attempting his epic Australian voyage 40 years on

Belfast-born Chris Donaldson was just 21-years-old when he embarked on his first Australian adventure in 1979. Armed with just £1000 and a two-year-old Moto Guzzi Le Mans, Chris had ambition to get out of Belfast, see the world and head out to Australia.

“I had relations out in Australia, so the idea was to go out there, get a job, earn some money and maybe come back in six months…”

But, over 4000 miles away from his home in Belfast, tensions in the East were rising and suddenly his voyage to Australia was in doubt. In November 1979, his route via Iran was thrown into jeopardy when a group of Iranian students took over the American embassy and held 52 diplomats and citizens hostage. Chris had only made it as far as London before he had to call off his plan. As the nation watched the scenes unfold on the TV from the edge of their sofas, Chris sat in London wondering what to do next.

“I went everywhere except Australia!” says Chris, who embarked on a completely different journey through the Austrian Alps, Israel, Syria and Jordan before heading across the Sahara Desert, Uganda and Sudan. To return to Europe, Chris blagged his way onto an ocean yacht race by exaggerating his sailing experience having previously lived on a 47ft yacht in Dubai for eight years.

Chris Donaldson sitting on his bike
A leather jacket - the garment of choice for every adventure motorcyclist worldwide
It wasn't all adventure in the 70s, Chris did have some time to relax on his Guzzi!
Chris Donaldson riding his bike through a doorway
While things were a bit different in the 70s, we're pretty sure riding a motorcycle into a house wasn't recommended then either!

“In Africa I ate native foods and either camped out in the wild or stayed with friends, living a very basic lifestyle.” A far cry from the epic Chris is embarking on the second time around.

But why, forty years after his first attempt is he trying again? “After writing my book [Going the Wrong Way], I read Ted Simon and Ewan McGregor’s books too. Their journeys were easy! I wanted to show people what it’s really like to do it unsupported and without a crew of people behind it. If we were any smarter we’d have waited and started next year, but we’re not! You’re better doing things today, than putting them off for tomorrow.”

“I’d like to think I can do everything I could when I was 21, and I can… it just takes me a bit longer!”

And just for authenticity, he’s doing it on exactly the same bike too – a 1977 Moto Guzzi Le Mans. “It seemed to be the right thing to do to use the same bike,” Chris said. “Back then, people told me it wasn’t the right bike to be doing this on – so I’m proving them wrong!”

But this time, it’s “old vs new”, and things are going to be a little bit different. “The aim of this trip is to show that just because you’re old doesn’t mean you have to stop doing the things you want to do.”

Chris stopping to explore new locations
There's always time to stop and explore new locations - just be wary of the local military lurking in the background!
Chris and Liam rode to the edge of Lake Como to join Moto Guzzi in their 100th anniversary celebrations
Chris taking to the sand in his Merlin Expedition jacket

Chris won’t be flying solo this time. His long-time friend Liam will be along for the ride on a brand-new Moto Guzzi V85, and they’ll be comparing the two bikes along the way.

“I’ve known Liam for over 25 years – he’s a guy I’ve done a lot of stupid things with… we owned and built an aeroplane together once! If I wanted to do something stupid, I’d do it with Liam. He bought a bike a few years ago and I’ve come in and out of motorcycling. I haven’t ridden the Guzzi for over 10 years, so this trip is resurrecting my interest in motorcycling again. Liam talked me into doing this, but we knew we’d have to do it differently to when I first set out in the 70s.”

Now, both Chris and Liam have families and jobs, meaning embarking on a round-the-world trip is more challenging than it was before. Instead of saying ‘see ya’ later’ to their families for a year, Chris and Liam will be flying out to their destinations before taking in some two-wheeled miles and flying back. “We’re not rushing this time, so we can appreciate it a bit more.”

“You’re better doing things today than putting them off for tomorrow”

They departed on their adventure from The Overland Event in Oxford on September 4, 2021 and headed for the Royal Observatory in London, before crossing borders into Italy to join Moto Guzzi in their 100th anniversary celebrations at their factory in Mandello Del Lario, on the edge of Lake Como in Italy. They then headed through to Greece, where they left their bikes to fly back to Belfast to catch-up on the everyday they had missed while they were away.

Merlin are excited to be supporting Chris on his journey, providing him with an Expedition jacket to keep him protected on his travels.

Chris’s book detailing his first attempt, ‘Going the Wrong Way‘ is out now. You can also read more about the first leg of their new journey and what happens next in our follow-up pieces soon.


Published on 25 February, 2022 by Emily Macbeth