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November 07, 2017

Awareness on Wheels

by Kate Carlisle


Mental health isn’t an easy conversation, especially when suicide remains the leading cause of death amongst 20-44 year olds in Australia. New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world. One young New Zealand motorcycle enthusiast Isaac London journeys to normalise the conversation surrounding mental illness and suicide.


Isaac is riding his Suzuki DR650 from Canada all the way to Argentina in his campaign “Awareness on Wheels” to raise funding for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. He focuses on prejudices towards masculinity and sexual orientation and mental illness that could arise from the struggles associated with both. I caught up with Isaac while he had some down time in Mexico and asked him a few questions about this epic road trip.



Tell us about your background in motorcycles?


Before starting this trip, I had almost zero experience riding motorcycles. My little brother races semi-professionally, but I grew up playing rugby and team sports. My parents bought a Honda XR100 for my brothers and I to share when I was about 12, which we would take turns riding around the paddock, but I lost interest pretty soon after my parents stopped paying for gas and then that bike became my little brothers baby. I only got my license at the beginning of this year that I did through a 'fast-track' licensing program, and it was the first time I rode a motorcycle on pavement.


You're riding a motorcycle across two continents! How many people have called you insane?


Many. Now that I'm in Central America, it is "muy loco". What I found once I started looking into the trip though is that is actually a really common trip, and the PanAmerican highway is frequented by adventure riders doing what I am doing. I found a family shopping for 3 bikes like mine so they could do it all together. I think most people have just never considered it so it seems an unusual scary trip to do.


Clearly you aren’t being a stranger to conquering some fears. Why do you think that men are able to approach physical fears more readily than mental anxieties?


Motorcycles were never really my thing, nor were extreme sports unless we are including rugby. I have certainly always been into pushing myself physically though, through my training for sport and willingness to try new sports like kayaking and surfing. I think it is all because society tells us men are supposed to be strong and somewhat fearless, which somehow means without emotion, with that whole bogus "men don't cry" attitude. The truth is, everyone has emotions, and it's emotional awareness men lack because we are essentially taught emotions have no value or are a hindrance to physical progress. Emotions actually play a vital role in guiding us and I think constantly repressing them is why so many men suddenly feel lost and depressed once they reach a certain age, because emotions inevitably catch up. Nobody is stronger than their emotions, their emotions are an important part of us all.



What was the exact moment that inspired you to take this journey to raise awareness?


Watching 2 friends I met while travelling Mexico last year ride off on little 115cc bikes from the hostel I was staying at. They were planning to ride coast to coast in Mexico with less motorbike or camping experience than me, but positive and determined attitudes. I had been considering if I was "qualified" to do a motorbike journey, and they proved to me the mental attitude was the most important part.


The male camaraderie fostered by motorcycle clubs has helped men combat mental illness. Motorcycle clubs in Australia and America after the Vietnam Conflict provided social and welfare support for disgruntled and dispossessed Vietnam War Veterans. Groups such as ‘The Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club’ support both veterans from the Vietnam and Afghanistan conflicts who “have come back from the deep depths of depression and socialising”. Do you think your mental journey benefited from the support and solidarity you experience in the motorcycle community?


I'm very new to the motorcycle community, but from the minute I put myself out there the help came in. I had near-strangers source the bike for me and help with the modifications. The tips and advice has not stopped coming since, and it was a real mental boost of confidence to know that almost anyone on two wheels has my back if I need it. Even the casual friendly wave (almost) every biker gives as they ride past gives me a boost.


What made you choose the Suzuki DR650 as your beast of choice?


I knew nothing about bikes, but my research approaching the trip showed I had a couple of choices for reliable, low-tech bikes with the necessary power to carry my gear and me. I compared the DR650 and a Kawasaki KLR650, but went with the DR because it had a lower ride height, was less bulky, and looked less "flashy"/more like a dirt bike. Basically, it reminded of that first XR100 trail bike I had.



In your most recent article “Pride and Discomfort” you wrote about your challenged masculinity and coming to terms with your bisexuality. Have people generally responded supportively? Or do you think that there is a long way to go toward acceptance?


I received a few supportive messages after that which was nice, but I definitely think there's a long way to go. Us Kiwis and Aussies love to give our mates a hard time and joke around, but jokes and insults between men calling someone gay definitely seem to be the 'go to', as if it actually is an insult. I know people are generally "joking", but I think we need to start looking at why it is even perceived as an insult. To me, it shows that there is a general attitude that homosexuality is somehow inferior. 


In the article you also touch on coming to terms with your best friends homosexuality and it giving you confidence to be more readily accepting of your own sexuality. Do you think that if you didn’t have this experience you would have been less likely to come to terms with your own sexuality and feel comfortable expressing it publicly?


I don't think it would have changed anything. Seeing him with his boyfriend was just the first time I had seen 2 guys I know kiss, then shortly that, after I moved to the other end of the country to study and he moved to another country. He has certainly been supportive of me since coming out as bisexual which gives me confidence in who I am, but it was very much a realisation I came to on my own and kept as a secret until I was sure of what I was feeling.


Do you think there is more of a stigma surrounding bisexuality for young males?


Definitely. As I said before, having your mates call you "gay" was always a common "joke" or "insult", so perceiving attraction to other men as a negative thing was something I had to get over first. Then I battled with if I was attracted to men or women, before realising it was both, and accepting that for myself because of my own perceptions. Once I was comfortable with it though, being called "gay" had no effect at all, and replying "bisexual actually" really took the wind out of their sails. For some reason, bisexuality in females seems to be fetishised by men and perceived very differently.



You really are living free in every way possible. What does the word freedom mean to you?


Freedom is simply the ability to make choices based on our happiness. We all make choices everyday, but certain things limit exactly what choices we make. My daily choices are where to get fuel, food and water, and where to camp or stop and take photos or film. These are all things I really enjoy, so I am lucky enough to say I certainly enjoy a lot of freedom on a daily basis. When our choices are guided by our innermost wants and desires, then we feel free. 


You obviously haven’t always been so open about your personal life. What gave you the confidence to speak out?


I actually read some blog posts from a friend of mine who was expressing her innermost deep and dark experiences. I immediately saw how that honesty and vulnerability helped others, and when I started opening up, it was like a weight off my shoulders. Other people so regularly identified with what I was saying that it became this awesome two-way thing where it made me feel better, and encouraged others to open up.


What do you think has been the hardest part of your journey so far? What have you learned from this challenge?


As my first bike trip, I'm learning what a burden the bike and all the gear that goes with it can be. I've always wanted to hike, surf, kayak and raft the areas I'm riding through, but I don't really have the freedom to leave my bike and gear. This just means the fun is to be had on the bike riding it, so I pick routes that will be more scenic or exciting. I also haven't seem my family in a long time because of how long I have been travelling before the journey, so I will never take time with family for granted again.



You can donate and keep up with Isaac’s journey on his website and Facebook: Hit the links below...