When you hear the roar of an engine along the roads of Grand Cayman and see an imposing figure expertly manoeuvring his multiple-cc motorcycle around the traffic, odds are good you are spying world traveller and local tour guide, Gilbert Nicoletta.
About 10 years ago, Nicoletta made a promise to himself that he would travel the globe, visiting foreign lands with only his trusty bike to take him from A to B (and C and D). His experiences since then have been many and varied, and he still isn’t done yet.
You have made it your mission to travel across multiple countries on your motorbike. When did you get the idea and why?
I believe, if you truly want to gain insight into the world, you have to go out there and see it. I remember my grandfather telling me these stories of when he went to sea, of the exotic and unusual places he saw as a merchant marine. I think those stories lodged themselves in the back of my brain and they [eventually] hatched.
I genuinely like people and I think the best way to understand and connect with someone is to immerse yourself in how they live, to see where they live and how that environment shapes their culture, their transportation, their diet, the way they treat other people and the very social fabric of who and what they are as people.
When did you start your first journey?
My first major road trip was in 2010. I did the Daytona Bike Rally and then a few months later, I rode down to the Florida Keys. The idea at that time was to just do the Eastern Seaboard. I set out from Florida [with] no GPS, no cellular phone, no real idea of where I was going, except that I knew New York was somewhere north. The basic idea was to just follow Interstate 95 all the way up to New Jersey and New York, like I had done some 35 years earlier as a pre-teen, on a family road trip. In the midst of all of this, Hurricane Gustav popped up on the travel radar and was forecast to hammer the entire East Coast with wind, rain and some flooding. It was my first major road trip, so I couldn’t risk riding through a major hurricane. I ended up taking Interstate 81 instead which was about 200 or 300 miles further inland. I avoided the hurricane but ended up in territory that was totally unfamiliar. I rode through Georgia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Virginia, Philadelphia, Baltimore and somehow made it alive up to New Jersey, where my sister lived. A few days later, I rode to Times Square in New York City to celebrate. My reward was a slice of authentic New York pizza at Ray’s Famous Pizza and a movie.
What countries have you visited so far?
All 50 US states, including Hawaii, all 10 provinces of Canada, Spain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Hungary, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the UK, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta, Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Lichtenstein, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Norway and Macedonia.
Do you rent motorbikes when you go or do you transport your own there somehow?
I currently own 14 motorcycles and I have them scattered across the globe … California, Chicago, Maine, the Midwest, Canada, Europe and Florida. Unless the logistics don’t make sense, I ride my own motorcycle. When I visited Hawaii, I was there for only two weeks. It takes about two-to-three months to ship a motorcycle there, so shipping one of my motorcycles in advance to ride for [such a short amount of time] hardly made sense or justified the cost.
I prefer to ride my own bike. It is familiar. I know what the bike is capable of and it gives me an added level of safety on the road.
Where do you stay at night when you travel?
My motorcycle road trip motto is ‘No itinerary. No deadlines. No desk. No drama’ [laughs]. I rarely know from one night to the next where I will be staying or how far I will be riding the next day. There is a general and vague sense of direction and destination, but more often than not, I just let the day take me where it will. If I see or hear of something interesting or intriguing, I make an effort to see it.
I love asking locals where the highlights are hidden. I ask them where they would spend the day, if they had a free day off from work [with] no pressing commitments or engagements. I find this is the best way to discover the gems … those golden nuggets of knowledge and cultural treasure.
Unless I’m travelling to an attraction that has a high volume of visitors or limited accommodations, I will often wait until after lunch or sunset to decide on where I want to sleep on any given night. A quick search on the internet at a café will often turn up lodgings on a site like hotels.com or airbnb.
What has been the most amazing sight you’ve seen on any of your trips?
I still find it amazing how much the sight and sound of a motorcycle breaks down the barriers that exist when it comes to meeting a total stranger. Motorcycles seem to have that power. It’s like arriving on a foreign planet in a spaceship and the locals come over to take a friendly look at your spacecraft. People notice. They are intrigued by your arrival and they want to know about the journey that has brought you to them, to the present moment. ‘How did you get here? What path did you take? What sights did you see? Where are you going next?’ That intrigue and mystique that surrounds the mysterious traveller … the power to create that aura – that still thrills me.
What was the most recent trip you took?
My most recent trip was a three-month [discovery] of Canada and Europe.
My goal this year was to visit Newfoundland, which was the 10th and final Canadian province I had to visit to complete my quest. It ended up exceeding my expectations. I also returned to Europe this year so I could complete my quest to ride the entire European Union by motorcycle. I travelled throughout England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Island. I then rode about 1,500 miles, down along the northern coast of France and Spain to Portugal, sightseeing and stopping for the highlights along the way, including the Camino de Santiago, Biarritz, San Sebastian, Bordeaux, Zaurautz, Le Mans, Nantes, La Rochelle and the Cantabrian Mountains.
What has been the biggest surprise on these journeys?
All the world over, culture and language may separate us, but we have more in common than we have differences.
Once you have conquered Europe, where to next?
I have officially completed my trek through the continental European Union, but I still have to pay a courtesy visit to Cyprus to officially complete the entire 28 EU countries.
Asia and South America by motorcycle will be the next frontier for me. I’m excited to overcome the challenges of visiting places where English is not the first language. Finding unique ways to communicate, without the ease of a common language that is familiar to both parties, continues to fascinate me. New terrains, new discoveries … this is what excites me about adventure travel and travelling on two wheels.
Do you have tips for anyone else deciding to follow in your footsteps?
Stay focussed [and] don’t listen to the voice of fear. [Many people are] going to tell you it can’t be done. They will tell you, repeatedly, [that] what you want to do can’t be accomplished.
Prioritise; make a travel bucket list and just do it – don’t wait for the perfect, mythical, magical time.
Finally, let go of the reins; don’t over-plan. Leave room for something spontaneous and unexpected to happen. Get lost, on purpose, and discover something off the beaten path.