The best things in life are achieved through hardship.
Our friend Chris Brinlee Jr. (or ‘CBJ’ to his inner circle), is not one to take the easy way home. Or the easy way anywhere, really. With a head full of bad ideas, and a heart set on pushing the limits of his comfort zone, Chris is an old-school adventurer who finds enlightenment in discomfort while moving between two points on a map, using photography and the written word to document some of the world’s most epic and unforgiving zones.
On the eve of Chris casting off on his next project which may or may not involve electric motorcycles and a particularly unforgiving set of waypoints, we sat down to chat inspiration, exploration, mentors, and of course, the faithful Muyshondt Electric Torch that he carries with him on these adventures.
– M –
Muyshondt: So what’s your most anticipated passport stamp for 2019 or 2020?
Chris: Kyrgyzstan. While sitting at a Bangkok coworking space in December 2014, I played a game of “Spin the Globe” with Google Earth and landed on Kyrgyzstan. I’ve been planning a journey there ever since; this is the year that I’ll finally make it happen.
I designed the expedition while trekking in Nepal the following month. I’d recruit a team to ride horses into the Tien Shan mountains and climb virgin peaks. While that particular endeavor still remains a vision, my upcoming moto journey that will lead through the region will provide the perfect opportunity to scout out valleys, peaks, and possible lines.
Muyshondt: Wait, have you ever traveled to the same place twice on purpose? Where and why?
Chris: I’ve been traveling the world nearly full-time for the past five years; I probably would have seen a lot more of it without five trips to Nepal; half a dozen to the Alps; and more than a few to Southeast Asia. [Snacks on Honey Stinger Organic Fruit Smoothie Energy Chews.] Something about those places keeps drawing me though; so I keep going back. Can’t really explain it, but it feels right when I’m there, so I seek out that feeling.
Other places have surprised me though, like the island of Sumba in Indonesia, or a gorgeous canyon in Chiapas, Mexico. Surprising, because those were both water-based jungle experiences; typically I seek out the Alpine.
Muyshondt: Got a cool travel packing ‘hack’ that’s not too much of a secret to share?
Chris: Always carry a small essentials case (Velomacchi’s Impact Case is perfect for me) or wear a fanny pack while in transit by sea, air, or land. Allows you to keep your essentials close-at-hand, and in an easily-accessible and organized fashion. At any given time, mine includes my Beagle; a ballpoint pen (Pilot G2 Gel for filling out customs declaration forms;) a couple of bars; headphones; passport; battery charger + cables; Kindle; and whichever watch I’m not wearing.
“It’s a raw experience. Wind howls. Rain bites. You have to work for it.”
- Chris Brinlee Jr. on his preferred method of travel
MS: Ok, lightning round – favorite method of traveling between two points is what, and why?
CBJ: Privately, traveling by motorcycle--hands down. Riding has this way of breaking down barriers. Cultural, personal, environmental. There’s no protection surrounding you; each rider is at the mercy of the weather, the road. It’s a raw experience. Wind howls. Rain bites. Temperatures plummet and leave you shivering. You have to work for it. You sweat. Yet you still manage to cover great distances with little expense.
If mass transit is of consideration, I’ll always take a train whenever feasible. Railways are still used all over the world; they’re one of the greatest ways to get around. It’s such a shame that passenger rail has all but been killed off in the US.
MS: Do you have an adventure mentor or idol who has helped inspire your own adventure goals?
CBJ: Bradford Washburn’s life is certainly one to emulate; his accomplishments for society, exploration, and art are quite unparalleled. Of those still walking amongst us though, Mike Horn immediately comes to mind. He lives his life unapologetically and with such great force. I had the opportunity to tag along on his vessel the Pangea for seven weeks as it sailed from Cape Town to Antarctica; and then to Australia, to document his record-breaking solo crossing; Mike’s the real deal. No questions asked.
MS: Favorite thing to eat while spiked out in the wilderness?
CBJ: I’m a sucker for energy chews on long missions out. Gu, Honey Stinger, Cliff--it doesn’t matter, they’re all like crack to me. In the words of Brian O’Conner from 2 Fast 2 Furious though, I “save the spray” and only indulge when I need to. Except for maybe right now.
MS: Which Muyshondt torch in your carry gets the most travel time and why?
CBJ: The Beagle is my go-to for sure. It’s light, powerful, and fits in my pocket with little obstruction so that light is always available even in the most mundane of circumstances.
MS: Finish this sentence: “The best things in life are __________.”
CBJ: “Only achieved through a great deal of hardship and suffering.” I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a masochist, when it comes to pretty much anything. Haha!
MS: Your garage only has room for one moto in perpetuity – what's it going to be?
How is this even a realistic question? Physics determines that the only state of stability for a motorcyclists’ garage is X[bike]+1. If I had to choose just one though, based on what’s currently available--it’d probably be either a Husqvarna Svartpilen, a Royal Enfield Himalayan, or a Husqvarna 701 Enduro. I haven’t ridden any one, but I want them all. Have to pick just one? Let’s go with the Himalayan. They’re equally versatile, accessible, and attractive.
MS: Have a favorite zone for a ‘microadventure’? (leave your desk on Friday afternoon, gotta be back in front of it Monday morning)
CBJ: Being based out of the Front Range in Colorado, I’ve gotta say Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s chock full of potential, no matter what season it is; you can get a totally epic mission in the morning and be back by lunch.
MS: Last question – and this one’s for all the marbles. You’ve just crash-landed on a desert island, and your carry-on survived unscathed. What is (hopefully!) in it?
CBJ: Great question! All of the aforementioned items from my travel case would be present. For apparel, I’d have a hardshell, an insulated jacket, and a beanie (40% of body heat is lost through the head.) A lightweight inflatable sleeping pad and down sleeping bag (these are actually great for braving long layovers where hotels are neither practical or accessible.) A small first-aid kit with lots of ibuprofen; wound sealant; and antibiotic ointment. A dry bag (this does double duty for keeping gear dry, but could be used as a water hauler in a pinch.) A LifeStraw Universal (works with a wide-mouth Nalgene; never leave home without it.) An assortment of cameras to document the “trip.” And an InReach Explorer, which is a two-way satellite communicator and emergency SOS device. Guess with that last piece of kit, rescue will come pretty quick. Who wants to crash land with me?
Don’t miss Chris’ next adventure – give him a follow on Instagram right here, and we’ll see you out there.