Ron Agostini

West Side man takes a 10,000-plus-mile bike ride of a lifetime

Brian Tripp takes a break in China during his around-the-world bike tour.
Brian Tripp takes a break in China during his around-the-world bike tour.

When Brian Tripp is asked why, he pauses.

Was it a midlife crisis? A roundabout way to lose weight? A statement to family and friends?

Let Tripp, 48, explain why he rode around the world on a makeshift bicycle.

"One day last October, I thought, 'I've had a job since I was 15 and have never been off more than a month in my life. You're always dreaming, 'One of these days ...' I had reached the breaking point. I had to do something.' "

George Mallory climbed Mount Everest in 1924 "because it is there." A marathon runner usually shrugs off his or her motivation with a "Why not?" For Tripp, it was a variation on those themes.

"Everyone around me will suffer if I'm not happy with myself," he said. "I'm just an average guy with an average income. I decided to throw it all on the table and go for this."

But "this" wasn't a weekend hike at Yosemite. "This" wasn't one of Tripp's cross-country motorcycle journeys. No, "this" was a tour de force of personal fulfillment and discovery -- eight months on a bike, beginning at his Diablo Grande home Feb. 2 and finishing in Hong Kong on Sept. 28.

Tripp did not calculate the distance covered. He knows he covered

10,000 to 11,000 miles spanning nine countries. "I didn't use an odometer," he said. "I didn't want to stare at the tenths going by."

Tripp has ridden his motorcycle to Mexico; Newfoundland, Canada; the Sierra and most points in between. What intrigued him, however, was watching the scenery roll by via leg power, not horsepower.

"My whole world is motorcycles, but things are much slower on a bicycle," he said. "I wanted to see the world slowly and understand it."

Getting the time off work wasn't easy. He's a veteran aircraft mechanic for United Airlines and he's survived several waves of layoffs.

"Here was my chance," Tripp concluded. "I had to do it now."

Phase One called for approval from Sheree, his wife of nearly 26 years. They've raised two sons, Shay, 25, a student at California State University, Humboldt, and Cody, 20, a student at Modesto Junior College.

"He thought about riding his motorcycle to South America but decided to do something really challenging," Sheree said. "He likes people and trying different things and enjoys bicycles whether they're motorized or not."

Tripp took apart and customized a dirt bike he purchased from a friend. When fitted with bags, the rig weighed less than 100 pounds. The problem was Tripp's weight -- 246 pounds, far heavier than during his time in the Air Force. Fitness-wise, he's not exactly Lance Armstrong.

Accordingly, he limited his daily coverage to no more than 60 miles. His route dodged most major mountain ranges, although he admitted to being exhausted at the end of most days.

"The whole thing was mental," Tripp said. "It was all about convincing yourself every morning that you're going to do this again and convince yourself why you're doing it."

That said, he was tempted on three occasions to abort: in the Netherlands; in Kiev, Ukraine; and in Wuhon, China, 500 miles from his destination.

"I sat in a hotel in Holland trying to think of some reason to quit and save face. In normal tourist thinking, you're always a 14-hour plane ride from San Francisco," he said. "A man from Seattle told me in Wuhon, 'Two weeks after you get home, you'll kick yourself for not riding into Hong Kong.' "

Tripp fought through the challenge by opening himself to the people along the way. He accomplished that with a mixture of sign language and broken English -- still the international language. He was welcomed into homes for about half of his trip. The rest of the time was covered by stops in hotels, hostels or what he called "stealth camping" everywhere from city parks, the desert, a rotted caboose and even a deer stand. The quality of homes, roads and buildings deteriorated as he ventured into Eastern Europe.

"I stayed in Donetsk, Russia, with a family for five days," he said. "A wealthy businessman in Volgograd treated me well. One Russian family lived in a virtual lean-to with one room and a dirt floor with a goat walking in and out. These people took me in. I'm not sure you would find the same hospitality here."

Tripp never felt he was in danger, although he detoured -- ordered by the military -- to find a tourist-cleared entry into Kazakhstan. One thing was constant on his journey -- virtually everyone treated him with kindness and respect.

"I truly know we're all the same people and want the same things out of life," he said. "We don't really have enemies. That's all politics stuff. It doesn't matter what flag you're under."

He chronicled his ride via an estimated 500 photographs -- many can be viewed on briansride.net -- and a daily journal. Among the most unforgettable memories were the mailboxes sans homes in the Hurricane Katrina-scarred swamps of Louisiana and the beauty of the desert merging with jungle in the Chinese province of Gansu.

A group of 8- and 9-year-old girls in one central Chinese village were fascinated by Tripp as he sat at a cafe. He smiled and talked to them. Later, he gave them a 5-yuan note and asked them to go across the street to get him an iced tea. He wanted to thank them and offered money but they wouldn't accept. Finally, one of their fathers said they could accept on one condition -- that they buy Tripp a gift. They bought him a necklace decorated by a dark polished stone. He still wears it.

And his weight loss, you ask? Nearly 46 pounds and, yes, he feels great.

"A friend told me, 'The hook of this whole thing is that you're not a retired millionaire with time on your hands. You're not a world adventurer. You're a shift worker who spent all his own money to do this,' " Tripp said.

"I had no idea I could pull this off. People said, 'Great job, but we doubted you could make it,' " he continued. "That's no problem, because I had doubts, too."

Sheree believes her husband "will probably try something else in a couple of years." But for now, Tripp is writing the book.

The title? "Brian's Ride."

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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