She grew up in Atlanta, Beijing and Hong Kong. She’s a children’s book illustrator. She’s Asian-American. She (currently) has blue hair. And she’s riding all over North America … on a Vespa scooter. What would that be like?!
What drew me to interviewing Stephanie is her unusual background. Because of that – and because of what she’s doing – she can offer an unusual perspective on America. She’s a modern-day explorer that is both understated and ultra observant.
In this interview we explore her story – why she’s doing this, what inspired her to do it in the first place, lessons learned from the road, and her top tips for others who might be interested in doing their own adventures.
For more information, see her website at 250SuperHero.com.
Stephanie Yue Transcript – Exploring American by Scooter
Hi, this is Doug Greene with What Really Matters Interviews. And what I like doing is interviewing people who have extraordinary stories and have great lessons about life, about business and what really matters in life.
And today I’m really stoked to be interviewing Stephanie Yue. Now to give you a little bit of background about Stephanie, she is exploring the United States on two wheels. She’s actually traveling around the country on a scooter – a 250cc scooter. You know, like those things you see in the movies for in Italy.
There are a lot of people that like to travel around the country on motorcycles, and that’s one thing. They’ve got big engines and lots of storage and all of that. But to do it on a scooter is, in my mind, something that is pretty extraordinary.
But beyond that, what I’m really intrigued with about Stephanie is her perspective. She’s Asian American. She multicultural. She grew up in both the United States and in China – in Beijing. Hong Kong. So she has a different perspective than many other people do in this country. And while she’s traveling around, she’s also working as a children’s book illustrator. And she’s been capturing drawings of what she sees.
So we’re going to explore so much today about what really matters. One of the cool things about riding on a motorcycle is you can only take so much stuff. So you really have to get down to the essentials and nothing else. So without further adieu, I’m going to let Stephanie explain to us what she’s doing – and why.
And then we’ll do a deeper dive into exploring how she got started in this, what life is like on the road, kind of what the day to day is like, sort of the bigger picture as you’re traveling around the country. You know, how are you thinking, how are you planning on where you’re going next and all of that? And also, what lessons has she learned? What is she learned about herself? What has she learned about others? What has she learned about this country?
And lastly, we’ll end with some tips and suggestions for others that may want to do something like this and follow their dreams. So Stephanie, welcome. Why don’t you tell us what you’re doing? Give us a nice 50,000-foot view of what you’re doing, where you’ve been and all of that.
Hi, I’m Stephanie. And I’ve been riding around North America for about three and a half years now on my Vespa GTS 250. So a 250cc scooter. I’ve ridden in 49 US states, four or five Canadian provinces now – some of Canada, and Baja Mexico. And I think I’ve been coast-to-coast three times. I work as a children’s book Illustrator. So I work as I go, and right now I’m in Cambridge, MA.
Let’s go back to how this all started. Tell us some of your background that led to your wanting to actually get on a scooter and travel around the country and explore it.
By the way, there’s a video of this, but if you’re just listening to the podcast – as I look at Stephanie, she’s in her late 20s, early 30s. She’s Asian American, she has blue hair, it’s intriguing, like it’s not what you would expect when you think adventure motorcyclists.
It takes people off guard sometimes – first of all to see a Vesap with so much luggage on it roll up anywhere. It looks a little ridiculous. And then if I take my helmet off … it hasn’t always been blue; this is a recent blue. But it was usually like red and black – or I think it was purple.
Colors – Lots of different colors.
Right. When you can’t carry very much … it’s like I wear the same thing every single day – pretty much the same gear. So this is one thing that I can change up.
Okay, so let’s dive into how you got into this. Where’d you grow up?
I was born in America. I grew up in Atlanta, and then moved to Beijing when I was eight or nine. And then to Hong Kong where my parents are originally from. I only got back to the US for college, for university. I went to New York. And even then New York has a gravity about it, so people tend not to leave New York.
So I had a very new narrow vision of America – a narrow understanding of America. New York is not like the rest of America. And so that was part of when the extended motorcycle travel bug bit me. And I knew that this sounded like something I wanted to do. I figured exploring the country that I’m supposed to be from, and that I know nothing about – that would be a good place to start.
I mean, America is huge. It’s a huge landmass, lots of different cultures, and just geographically diverse too. It’s beautiful. And I think a lot of Americans take it for granted, and they don’t think of their own country as like a place worth exploring. So that’s how it was born to like just we’ll start here. And then it just grew into Canada and Mexico – because I have friends in Canada, and i’d heard good things about Baja.
So let’s talk about the feeling that you had inside, though, that said “I gotta get a scooter and go ride around the country.
It didn’t really start with a scooter, although I think small displacement was always interesting to me. I had an old Kawasaki; I had a 1983 Kawasaki 550. I was very excited to get this motorbike so I could hit the freeway and go somewhere, and very quickly realized that I was blasting past everything.
And I think when I picked the vehicle to go on, you know, the “big one”, I didn’t really trust myself to be able to slow down on a larger bike and actually take my time. And also a lot of people might feel – like actually I’ve been asked, “why didn’t you take the motorcycle? It’s an obvious choice”. But I’m the one that’s going to be sitting on this for thousands of miles; I just picked the one I like riding the most. And it was my GTS.
Actually, it’s a very comfortable bike. It’s a sleeper. The small community of people who have discovered the GTS is like the Cadillac of scooters. It’s cushy. It’s like sitting at your dining room table – and twist it and explore. It’ll keep up too.
I’m still intrigued with this exploration bug in you that you’re actually taking action on. I mean a lot of people like to explore, but not very many people – especially women – take off solo on a scooter to go ride all over the country. So you really had a strong desire in there to do this.
Probably a combination of things at the time. I was living in Providence at the time, and I think I’d slipped into a very comfortable groove. I do believe that it’s good to be outside of your comfort zone, and that the challenge is outside of your comfort zone. That’s how you grow. So that was part of that move against complacency that, like, this would be a big way to do it.
It was also very fortunate that I work in books; I work in publishing. And I had handed in two books right before my planned departure. So this was a career that I could take with me. This was always meant to be a mobile career. I just never imagined that it would be like trying to work out of a Vespa.
But you figure it out. I think that’s a large part of it. I was ready for a big change. And I’d read a lot of ride reports from other people who tour – just like extended travel. And it sounded like something I wanted to do. There’s a lot more to it. It took me at least a year and a half, like almost two years, before of just planning and paring down before I actually took off.
So it’s something that you said in there that really intrigues me- is this urge to grow, to keep pushing against the edge. I don’t think those are your words, but I think it paraphrases it. So describe that. And where do you think you got that from? Are your folks similar? Are your parents explorers? I mean, it sounds like you’ve lived in different places.
Yes, we did travel a lot growing up, which I credit my parents to, for really expanding me and my sister’s worldview very early. So when we moved to Beijing, as a family we took every opportunity – like every spring break, or Christmas, or whatever – to travel somewhere new.
And that was hugely formative for me. As we continued this while we lived in Beijing – explored a lot of Asia, and Hong Kong obviously, family in Singapore. And I think I’ve visited a lot of Southeast Asia. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of Asia growing up, and that’s actually part of why I I’d like to explore this side of the earth.
So traveling and exploring have always been a part of your – it’s central to who you are, your experience growing up.
Yeah, I think so. I might have taken some of that for granted growing up. Like I just assumed everyone else has travelled extensively but traveled some.
Let’s fast-forward now to New York. You went to school in New York, and you studied …
I studied Communication Design in hopes of a freelance career, so that this would be something skill set that I could take with me.
So this is intriguing. You have a visual design background, too, right? So you kind of visually designed your trip, it sounds like it’s like?
Right, but you can do that very quickly. I think the BMW club actually has rides where it’s like, “Oh, you visit the four corners.” I deliberately set it up so that yes, there are four corners, but I wanted to take the longest way around to the four corners – which I think I certainly succeeded in. I think I reached the third corner in three months and it took another 11 months before I was finally like, “Okay, I guess I should finally motor on towards Lubeck.”
Another part that I find intriguing is this desire to go slow, instead of fast. You mentioned you had a 550 bike and said, “You know, I don’t want to just go screaming down the highway and like, click off the corners. I want to slow down and explore.” So talk about that from the interior perspective. Where do you find that? What drives you to want to do that – versus full throttle down the highway to the next point?
I guess part of that is in reaction to like, a lot of times if you are, let’s say you want to go on a motorcycle trip, you might be confined to a long weekend – a weekend or a long weekend. So by those constraints, you kind of have to go fast. If you want to see all these things that you want to see, you’re rushing a little bit. I feel very fortunate, very lucky, that I have a career that I can take with me, so I can make my own schedule.
And I’d certainly want to take my time then. I feel like I’m leaving a lot of room for you to get anywhere. That’s leaving a lot of room for any of that “road magic” to start happening- like chance encounters with people. If you have all afternoon to talk, then you can talk all afternoon, or you end up staying with them. It’s also just much more relaxing to just say to yourself, “I only need to go 150-200 miles today.”
So when you were growing up, were you sort of like that anyway? Is that sort of innate to you to go a little bit more slowly and take in things more than just rush from point to point? Do you sort of deep-dive into things?
I think it might be more in response to an adult pace, actually. People are just like going-going-going.
So you have a strong curiosity. Describe that – this desire to explore. Can you talk about the feeling of that? Where does it touch you inside when you? What do you feel when you think of exploring? Do you feel joy? Do you feel aliveness? Do you feel exhilaration? Know what I mean?
Maybe curiosity is essential for exploration.
What’s your relationship with it, though? That’s what I’m curious about. I want to hear what you hear what you feel what …
So here’s why I’m coming at it from this angle. I really believe that, for the most part, we’re actually driven – not by what we think – but by what we feel. We’re somatic beings. We’re body centered. In a sense, I kind of think we make decisions at a gut level without even being aware of it, and then the brain comes along with some sort of story to justify what you already have made a decision about.
So I’m curious to go underneath the layers of “Yeah, I was curious” and more into “What I was feeling is I just have this strong desire.. “
Like in my own experiences, I’m so happy when I’m on the road and exploring it. The new places, the new visions, the new … just seeing things in a different perspective is so eye-opening for me, and it satisfies some …
Yeah. If you’re in a rut, that can get you out of your rut. It is very satisfying. I suppose you wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t satisfying. I don’t know how to describe that as a feeling – like when you’re exploring it’s, I suppose I don’t really think of it that way of like, “Oh, I’m going out exploring now.”
Do you have a big smile on your face when you’re doing it?
It’s definitely a wonderful feeling to be going somewhere new, to be going somewhere – at least new for me. I’m trying to put myself mentally in that place right now. Unfortunately, it’s a little cold outside right now. So I haven’t been able to go exploring on a motorbike as much as I would like,
What is your day-to-day like when you’re on the bike? How long do you actually travel for in a stretch? How many days or months or …
I actually stay put for a long time – like for stretches at a time. I think there was someone who was kind of like, “Oh, have you ever done like an Iron Butt. I’m not really interested in doing an Iron Butt.
Just for those that might not know, what is an Iron Butt?
I think it’s 1000 miles …
Yeah, in 24 hours. Or 1500 in 36.
I actually go really slow, and I like to poke around. And I tend to stay in one place for a while. And it’s partly because, if I have the chance, I would love to stay in a place for like a week or two weeks. And that would be like the starting amount of time, just to get a feel for the daily life there.
I think when I had finally reached the West Coast in 2014, I stayed in the Bay Area – bouncing around the Bay, but in the Bay Area – for five months. People were starting to ask “like so are you living there now?” So day-to-day it’s different – depending on whether I’m actively covering distance. Or if I hear back from my editor and I need to work, and then I start looking for a place to work. And then it’s kind of like a normal workday. You show up and you have stuff to do.
For days on the road, it’s very refreshing – because the problems that you deal with, they’re immediate. It’s kind of like “Well, I’m low on gas and so I need to get gas. I am hungry or I need to pee, so I need to find a place to eat or use a restroom.”
So there’s definitely a simplicity to the road that I think appeals to a lot of motorcyclists. You’re not worried about these larger, more nebulous issues. You’re just worried about “What’s the road condition? Will it rain? Where will I sleep?”
So it kind of brings you to that “right here, right now” sort of thing, which is …
Yeah, it keeps you in the moment, which is very refreshing.
It’s a very Zen thing, you know.
It is like meditation. I think a lot of times I do think of being on the bike and get into this lovely state that is kind of like a meditation – where you are focused. You are paying attention to traffic, road conditions. Everything around you – you’re taking it in. But you’re also not worried about things that aren’t immediately affecting you; you are definitely in the moment.
So you’re riding along, you’re exploring, you’re going from town to town, state to state and then all of a sudden – let’s say you get a job request, or …
.. a city I like!
Yeah, what happens then? Do you find a place to live? Do you go to Airbnb? Do you check Craigslist?
Airbnb is a pretty good resource for when I want to stay in one place for a week or longer. Before I left, I knew that this would be a pretty big lifestyle change. And originally I’d only planned to ride for four months. It was not originally part of the plan to still be riding. I just didn’t find a reason to stop.
I didn’t realize how much energy the logistics of finding places to stay all the time would take. And a lot of times – I mean, it’s fantastic. I have friends all over the US now. And I love meeting people and I love seeing like a little piece of other people’s lives when I’m invited to stay with people.
But then there’s also like, if you do this constantly, there’s a time that I need to recharge. And I find that Airbnb is often the best bet because you can get like a weekly rate and lay low for a little while. And also I stay with family around the U.S. quite a bit. In Cambridge, I’m at my boyfriend’s. So I’m very lucky to have people all over. I don’t know what I’ll do when I go overseas. Make more friends, hopefully.
So speaking of relationships, how does that work out when you’re traveling a lot of the time on a scooter all over the country?
Yeah, long distance is tough. It’s always tough.
But you’re you are doing it though. What are some of your secrets to that?
I don’t know. I think, Fred, my boyfriend, is very understanding. I think he met me in the context of travel. So he kind of already knew that I want to go places. And that I have, at least right now, so far, I have a career that will let me do that. And it’s fantastic. He joined me on a GL to ride from Austin to Vegas for a scooter rally. I think we took about two weeks to do it. And then we rode to people that way. And he flies out to meet me. It’s great.
I don’t know … find someone who understands! I feel like that’s generally a good idea.
Yeah, they’re not trying to make you something other than who you are. Okay, so you settle into a place, you work for a while, and then all of a sudden you realize it’s time to move on again.
I’m not sure. I feel like maybe it comes back to that curiosity. I’ve ridden around North America a lot; maybe I should try another continent. North America was natural for me, because it’s just one huge landmass. You can do this overland. So now I guess I’m considering …
Like where? South America, Africa ..
South America sounds like a great place for motorcyclists right now. Europe is interesting to me, I haven’t really explored it very much, and a Vespa would be right at home there. Now my bike is getting on its miles. So availability of spare parts is something to be considered.
So what have you learned? What have you observed about the United States, about America, in your travels? And describe this partially from that perspective of, you know, being American, but also being Asian and seeing it through I think a unique perspective. What have you noticed that you like about America? What have been some of your best experiences? what have been some of your more challenging experiences?
America is very diverse. There are pockets that are very homogenized. But as a whole, I mean, I can see why the country is so divided currently. It’s just because people come from a lot of different backgrounds. And it’s a diverse place, generally good. Life lessons taking away from this – people are generally good, and generally want to help you as a traveler. I’ve had good experiences.
Let me put a situation that I’m sure has come up. You’re you’re traveling through the south, let’s say Arkansas, or Mississippi or Alabama or, you know, someplace down there. You show up on this scooter, let’s say in a smaller community, maybe 1000-3000 people, pretty conservative down there. You show up, you pull your helmet off, you’re Asian American, you have blue hair, you’re on a scooter and you’re just traveling solo. What do people make of you? What is the response?
People don’t really know what to make of me. Very often people don’t know what to make of me. Like I was saying earlier, the Vespa itself looks so ridiculous. You don’t often see a Vespa that has so much luggage on it that’s equipped for long hauls.
I mean, it never occurred to me that traveling solo as a woman would be so unusual. Like I came to it merely because I didn’t know anyone else. So how else am I supposed to do this? Generally a positive response, like maybe slightly confused, but always positive.
So you pull into a diner, for example, okay, and you get some food. You go into a restaurant, and you’ve got your motorcycle gear, they watch pull up, you come in. The good old boys are there, hanging out on the counter, and maybe some, I don’t know, I’m just trying to picture what it looks like, what unfolds …
It probably looks pretty funny.
This is like made for a movie.
I think that’s part of what I like about the Vespa. It’s a friendly vehicle. It’s not threatening. You’re probably not going to be threatened by a Vespa. And so when you catch people off guard like that, it opens you up for conversation. Like even if it starts maybe slightly derisive of like, “Hey, do you want me to tow you along on that?” Or “how do you keep up?”
And lots of questions like that. I’ve almost forgotten. I’ve become kind of numb to it, maybe. Especially in parts of America where it’s like big Harley land. People there are looking for very different things out of their bike. And so to roll up on a Vespa … like I went to Sturgis. In 2014 I rode to Sturgis,
Maybe explain what Sturgis is to people that don’t know.
It’s the largest motorcycle gathering in the United States.
Maybe in the world.
Maybe in the world. I’d have to look that up. But it is massive. It takes over a tiny and otherwise tiny town in South Dakota. And it floods it – like in a 50-mile radius – just flooded with motorcycles.
Tens of thousands of motorcyclists, right? And they’re all on Harleys.
Yeah, there’s 95% Harley’s. And you start seeing signs like a 100 miles out of like, “welcome bikers.” And I rode up on my Vespa. Everyone is very welcoming. Hey, I rode this to Sturgis.
When the big backers look at you, how do they respond? It’s like, “Well, that’s not a Harley!”
That is correct. But people are always very welcoming. I’m not really competing. If I’m on Vespa; maybe I’ll put it that way. I don’t feel a lot of any of the usual “biker chick” stereotypes. I don’t need to deal with that so much, because I’m already on what’s considered a toy to a lot of Americans.
It’s a good bike for me. It’s comfortable, it’s capable. It gets 70 miles per gallon, and you can do 70 miles per hour all day. But I don’t want to anyway. Like that’s the thing. That’s why I think it works so well for me. And it’s great too, because now that I’m more comfortable in how I like to travel, when I do take a bigger bike out. I’m still poking around. I go slow.
So I assume you’re probably not taking the main highways, and that you’re more on the backroads wherever you’re going?
If f I can help it, that’s how I prefer to travel. But it is really nice to have the option, especially in the US, because so much of it’s just huge. And there’s a lot of ground to cover. It’s great to have the option to hop on a freeway. That 250-size is a really nice compromise.
A Kawasaki was my first bike. I dropped it a number of times, and I hated picking it up. It’s a 480-pound bike, and that’s not even with luggage on it. So I definitely wanted a bike that I could comfortably pickup on my own. I think a lot of people have mentioned that as a criteria for choosing a bike.
So let’s go back. Maybe pick one of your great experiences. Like take us to a specific situation where you met some people, you come into a town, and … what’s it like? Describe one of those scenarios that really is one of your more fond memories of …
Oof my favorite kind of magical moments was in New Mexico. I think I planned to do maybe 150 miles that day. And about 70 miles in, I pulled into Zuni, and saw a sign for tamales. I tought “Yeah, this seems like a good town; it’s a good time for tamales.” And it was in someone’s house. Like she made blue corn tamales, and it was around a dollar. I was invited into the kitchen and ate a tamale in someone’s kitchen.
On the way out, a woman, who had also stopped to buy tamales, looked at me and looked at the bike. And she was like, “Oh, where are you from? Where are you going? Do you want to see something you’ve never seen before in your life?” And I was like, “Yes, sure.”
And so she welcomed me into her home and introduced me to her family. And it was hilarious, because her son was kind of like, “Dad, she brought another one.” So there was a precedent for this. And that night they were doing traditional dances in the old part of the town.
So you’re talking Native American?
Native American, yeah. Zuni dancing. You’re not allowed to film. There are lots of signs are in that town for “No photography” and “No video”, because this is a piece of them that is just for them.
So it was really an honor to be invited to Old Town Square, and to be able to witness really something that I had never seen before. “Magical” is the best word I have for it. It’s very difficult to describe. It was entirely thanks to her hospitality, and also because I had time. I didn’t have to go anywhere. So sure, I’ll stay up with your son till like 1am and watch dancing.
Let’s switch up a little bit. You can only take so much stuff on a scooter, or a motorcycle anyway. So what do you take? And what do you leave behind? And do you have a systematic approach to this?
I did the Continental Divide, right? And I kind of broke it down into like, I had my “office” section – I had my laptop and electronics and the work stuff. And then I had what I called sort of the “bedroom” – which was the sleeping bag, tent, pad and all of that. And then I had the “kitchen” – which was cooking gear, and food and water. And then I had the “garage” and all of that.
And then I guess the other piece I had was, you know, the motorcycle gear – which I was mostly was wearing and in the tank bag, which had kind of the basic stuff that I went to all the time. But I had a systematic approach like that. And on a scooter, in traveling like you do for longer periods of time, what do you take and what do you leave behind?
I think it is a similar type of system. You have your sleeping arrangement. I didn’t camp before I I wanted to do this. I only learned how to camp because I knew that this would be part of traveling by motorbikes around the US. So I’m a very uncomfortable camper. I’m a city person. But you know I have the sleeping mat, sleeping bag, and a lightweight tent – pretty basic camping stuff. I’m trying to fit this into larger systems.
There two places to lock things on the Vespa – under the seat, and a top case – which I eventually replaced with a pelican case, because of the rectangular shape. Most top cases are made to hold like a spare helmet, so they’re rounded. The rectangular shape of a pelican was much more suited to my work because my laptop is a rectangle. All my electronics will fit better and be more secure in this Pelican.
So my packing has actually evolved quite a bit over time. If you look in early photos of like how I set off, versus what the bike looks like now. First of all, the bike now is much uglier. It’s had a lot of damage, a lot of battle damage. But everyone packs differently, and I think over the course of three’ish years, things just started to settle, and they’ve settled pretty comfortably for me now.
So what do you take? You know, in clothes, in …
I do take my work stuff. So laptop, spare batteries. I had a small drawing tablet, like the external type, for minor editing and a larger (unclear) that I typically don’t carry with me, because it’s bulky and a little delicate. So that will typically be shipped from place to place, depending on where I think I might be working. That kind of sums up the office.
Obviously you have like spare parts and tools which, again, you just kind of dial in as you find things like extendable ratchets. That was a great find for me. And so you dial that in.
What other? Oh, the kitchen. I actually did not carry a kitchen, which surprises a lot of people. I carry a soft cooler that I usually stock with yogurt, boiled eggs, and breakfast stuff. But the soft cooler works well for me, because I actually I really like eating, I love food. I love eating whatever is local, whatever is around me. Sometimes that means I’m just eating hamburgers for days on end, because that’s what is most available, and also what’s most affordable and probably a pretty good area for that.
But I just take all the leftovers and I jam it in my cooler. And that’s how I continue to live on my scooter without the aid of a camp kitchen. That might change one day. I’m not sure.
Then what about the wardrobe department?
The wardrobe is trickier because I have to carry everything at all times. So I’m carrying everything from hot weather gear, to silk liners for cold weather. I’m typically not doing a lot of riding when it’s extremely cold. But it’s nice to have that if you’re doing mountain passes down to a desert. I’ve gone through my entire gamut of my gear in a single day by going mountain to desert.
I think the longest I’d gone between laundry was about a week, or maybe just over a week. And it only worked because I went from somewhere hot to somewhere cold. You’re limited in how much you can carry, so the quick drying stuff …
Synthetics and …
Merino wool. Actually this hoodie I’m wearing, I’ve had for three years now. I think it’s a Merino hoodie that – I hope this isn’t too gross – but I’ve never washed this. And yet somehow it’s magically … like it looks okay. It looks presentable and it doesn’t smell. It’s definitely frayed. I’ve repaired it a number of times now,. But it’s one of those things … I lived in this sweater for multiple winters. This was just like, yeah, I basically lived in it.
And you live in most of your clothes. I was joking earlier, like I’m like a cartoon character. I wear the same outfit every day. I kind of enjoy not having to think too much about what I’m going to put on. You wake up and you check the weather and go, “Oh, well, it’s a little cold. I’ll put on a base layer. I’ve only got one or two. Maybe I only have one that’s clean.” And then you go about your day.
Okay, let’s go into your drawings. I know one of the things you mentioned is you did a drawing per day for, I think, 450 days. Why don’t you talk about that project. What was the inspiration? What …
Actually a specific book that inspired me to do that is Mo Willems, who is more known for his children’s book illustrations like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Fantastic guy; he’s lots of fun. But before he became the Mo Willems that most families know, he took a year off and backpacked around the world.
And he did one drawing a day. I think I have the book here somewhere – You Can’t Get a Rickshaw in a Monsoon. That was basically it. It was one drawing a day to capture that feel of slow travel, of how like one day might be completely packed.
Let’s say for me, one day I might be nose to the grindstone – 300 miles; I’ve just got to cover some distance. It’s desert; there’s nothing here. And then the next day maybe it’s a city, so you’re meeting lots of different people. And you have this very compressed experience.
And then after that maybe it’s three days of just resting. Maybe you’re waiting to hear back from an editor. Maybe you just need a little break. So all you do is stay hang around the hostel and take a nap or read a book. That flexibility, it’s fantastic when you can do that.
And I think Mo Willems captures it in his collection of illustrations by doing one per day. You just pick one moment. And it’s a hard exercise. If you have a very full day and many amazing things happen, it’s hard to pick that just one.
So how do you pick “the one”?
Just do it! I made a commitment to myself to do this. It’s actually, I think, the longest commitment that I’ve ever honored to myself. Like people go on diets and maybe break diets in a week or whatever. But this was one that was very important to me. So I have one drawing for every single day until I reached that fourth corner.
If you go back and look at that whole collection of drawings, is there a pattern to them? Like what are the most common drawings? I don’t know, what do you see when you look at that body of knowledge, that body of work?
Fortunately, it’s such a large body of work that it’s hard to look at it all at once. I actually need to find a convenient way to present that in one visual entity, or to like pick out some highlights for both sides of that type of experience – for all of the days that are really full, and also all the days that are quite peaceful and restful.
Describe your style of drawing. Is it line drawing? Is it like watercolors pastels, or …
They are usually done in pencil, and then I’ll go over it in a brush pen. So they’re all black and white. And I have a number of different technical pens. So some microns, some brush pens, some are like a big fat brush pen, so that you can get a nice wide variety. So ink drawings would be what the final …
So you start them as an analog product, so to speak – a real world product of pen on paper, and then you convert them to digital, or what?
For all of the daily drawings, I draw them in a hardback sketchbook. And then I take a photo with my phone, improve the contrast a little bit, and upload it from there. So all of the 400-plus drawings that are on my blog are photos of my sketchbook.
So do you retouch them once you transfer them from …
They go online. I don’t really have a good way to retouch them. So all of the mistakes that you see … like when you see me scribble out things, yeah, that’s because I couldn’t retouch it, and I like cross it out. It also means some of these drawings are pretty messy.
I very early on gave up the idea of being able to draw the day that I’m experiencing this. I need Just set aside time to do this, and it’s usually like two or three days after the fact. I’ll be drawing about two or three days ago. So there’s a little bit of a lag. I think at one point, the lag got to be like weeks, maybe a month; I was quite behind. But I always took notes for what I thought I would like to draw. And so I always knew what I would pick for that day.
What did you learn about yourself in those 450 days of drawing after drawing after drawing – that kind of commitment. What did it illuminate within you? What did you learn about yourself? How did you grow? That daily commitment to something that it was important to you? The documentation, the capturing the drawing?
It’s definitely important to me. But also sharing it online was the other major component. It wouldn’t be the same if I couldn’t share this online. And part of that comes from the ride reports that inspired me. That like gave me that itch to go out and explore. And that made it possible for me – ride reports that have information about how you might go about doing this.
So by putting my experiences online, I hope to inspire other people, or at least to make it possible. Like to have hopefully other people think like, “Oh, well, if she’s managed this, then maybe I can.” So there was always going to be an interactive element in it. These were not drawings that I wanted to just keep in my own personal journal.
I think what you’re kind of saying is you’re both an explorer and a messenger. You know, you’re a documenter, and you’re documenting your own adventure, but you’re also sharing this to inspire …
I hope so. Yeah, to inspire anyone that thinks that they might want to try something like that. Maybe not to such an extreme scale. You really don’t have to pack up your life and give up your apartment, which is what I did. And partly why I’m still going; it’s just like, “well, I kind of already got rid of the apartment.” But you can do this on a smaller scale.
I think one of the things I find intriguing is there’s a full circle in this, or a full cycle. You go and explore, but then you share it. And obviously, you get feedback from that. So I used to be a – I’m projecting into this, and you stop me if I’m wrong on this – but I was a photojournalist. And I worked at newspapers where I’d go out.
I lived in a small town – Sun Valley, Idaho – where I worked on a number of papers. And when I lived there, I got into outdoor recreation. And I would go on these mountaineering adventures and ice climbing and whitewater kayaking and things like that. And I would take my camera along, especially ski mountaineering, I really liked that.
And there was the thrill of being on the edge, you know, going out there and exploring these mountainous areas and kind of being out there where not a lot of people go, or doing something that not everybody’s doing. And then to go capture that, too, and bring that back, and then share the beauty of what I found with others.
And part of what motivated me to do that – let’s go back to the somatic feeling of this – was that it completed a …
If I could use two words to describe myself, it would be “explorer” and “messenger”. And in fact that’s kind of relevant to what we’re doing here. I’m curious about your story. We’re exploring your story and then sharing it, right? And it completes a cycle in me that just feels right. It’s like if I don’t do that sharing component …
It would feel amiss.
Yeah, it feels incomplete.
I can identify with that. And it’s partly because I feel like maybe this is my way of giving back a bit, because I got so much out of other ride reports. Well, here’s my contribution to the pile. Maybe it will help someone else.
Okay, let’s go on to big takeaways: big lessons you’ve learned in all of this travel – about you, about life.
Thankfully, people seem mostly good. Other large takeaways …
I don’t want to sound too hippie-dippie about this, but things will generally work out. How do I explain this?
It’s one of those like, before I left, I’d be nervous about things like what will I do if my bike breaks down – flat tire, whatever. And there’s a very obvious rational process to that. Well, if it’s a flat, then you fix a flat. You have the kit, you have it on your bike, you’ll figure it out. If you really can’t do this, you also have you can look for a tow. It doesn’t necessarily allay your fear though, because you still have this nervousness.
How do I bring this back around? It will generally work out. When you do break down, you will figure it out, and you can have a lot more faith in yourself.
So you’ve learned to have deeper faith in yourself through this, and that things will work out. Do you what – do you have to kind of let go of a certain amount of control, and just go …
So definitely a part of travel, I think is, is being vulnerable. So if you are completely invulnerable, you’re almost a little closed off to a number of new experiences – even like experiences like having people help you. If you don’t need any help, then you don’t have a chance to meet a lot of people.
For better for worse, sometimes it’s like, let’s say run out of gas or whatever, when someone shows up with gas, then you wouldn’t have met that person if you hadn’t run into some trouble.
And a lot of times of friendships come out of that, or just a really good conversation, or just meeting people – is like a lot of what brings meaning to otherwise what would be an endless number of miles where you just cover ground. So being vulnerable is definitely … you should allow yourself to be vulnerable. You need to be vulnerable – and actually can invite a lot of new, fantastic experiences.
What else? If you could write the letter back to yourself 10 years ago … you’re gonna write a letter back to yourself 10 years ago before you started this … when did you start doing this? How long ago?
I left Rhode Island in 2014.
So it’s only been three and a half years ago.
- So seven years.
Okay, so let’s say you could write a letter back to yourself 10 years, seven years ago, and you could write down the three most important things to impart to yourself that you didn’t know then that you know, that you wish to knew from this perspective …
It will be okay. It is worth pursuing the things that you feel strongly about, and it will be okay.
“It will be okay.” Expand on that.
Because I think a lot of reason that people don’t set out to leave their comfort zone is out of fear. And fear of the unknown is a perfectly understandable fear. But thinking back, it is hard for me to pinpoint – like I wouldn’t be able to describe exactly what it is that I’m afraid of. And I think that is when I knew that this is not necessarily a rational fear, and this is something that is worth digging into.
Okay, so that’s one thing you’d write back to yourself: “It will be okay.” What else?
I guess you have to have a picture of like, “what would it look like if it was not okay?” And I couldn’t have a picture of that. So clearly, it should be okay.
What else? The other skills … you can learn them along the way. And I think that’s another important thing – to just be able to trust that you’re capable of learning as you go. Like I was not mechanically inclined when I left. My family … they’re not car people; they don’t wrench on things. So I have no background in that. I have background in camping and no background in tooling on my bike. Like other people were still doing my oil changes before I left.
And these were things that I knew that I would feel much more comfortable if I had some ability in. So I went on some camping trips. And I learned how to work on my bike. Just start from the very basic to like now, which is three and a half years later that I’m considering doing an engine swap on my Vespa. And that’s something that I certainly would not have considered.
I wouldn’t have thought that would be something I would think of doing when I first started. And those are all skills that I picked up along the way – out of necessity. I can’t afford to keep bringing this to Vespa dealers. So I’m thankful for all of the people who have helped me learn.
So, to summarize that, it sounds like you don’t need to have everything figured out when you take off.
I think that’s a very good way to put it is. I think someone else has mentioned that “you’ll never be ready, and you should do it anyway.”
And that rings true for me. I have never felt ready. Even today, like when I’m setting off for kind of a big trip, like I recently went on an all-women’s motorcycle tour of Pakistan. That’s pretty that’s pretty out there for a lot of people. A lot of people would balk at the idea of even visiting Pakistan, not to mention doing it on a motorbike, not to mention doing it with a group of women.
You know, I was nervous for a lot of reasons. But I don’t know, it brings me some peace to remind myself, “Well, I’ll never be ready for that. But I will get there and I’ll figure it out.”
And so for anyone else who is thinking of starting out, I think that’s good advice – you won’t be ready. You’ll never be ready. If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll never go – so just do it anyway. Obviously take the precautions and don’t go about it completely blindly. At least know how to operate a motorbike if you plan on riding around the country on a bike.
But aside from that, like the emotional insecurity of like, “I don’t know if I’m cut out for this” or “if I’m ready for it” … I think you can ignore that and just go ahead and do it.
You’ll find that you will be ready when you’re confronted with the issues that you’re facing. And it’s a wonderful thing to be challenged like that, because that’s what keeps you in the moment. That’s when you know that you’re engaged. Yeah, you’ll never be ready.
Go to another question: How is all of this experienced changed you?
I think I’m much more laid back in a way. I think I do have a greater sense of faith that things will work out, and that I don’t need to plan things down to a tee. Because I do tend to like to have a plan. I know myself well enough that it’s difficult for me to just be turned loose.
In the same way, if you handed me a blank sheet of paper and told me to draw something, that is a terrible thing to do to me. I really hate it. Because it’s completely blank. I work much better within parameters.
So, this is why I chose four corners. I’m like, “Okay, we’ve got like a framework here.” That doesn’t mean I’m going to take the shortest path to all four corners. I kept GPS tracks for everywhere that my bike has gone. Since leaving Rhode Island. I have a GPS track for it. And you can plot it all on one map.
And it looks like … have you ever unraveled knitting, you’ve got all those like squiggly lines? You plot this red map on North America, and it’s just like someone took a ball of yarn all squiggles, dropped it on the map. It looks ridiculous.
There’s some like really hilarious dead ends to have like, Like I went to Des Moines, and that was pretty good. And then just went back. So there’s a little line poking out there. And a lot of other places where it’s just like – the Northeast, it’s also it’s densely populated. So the Northeast is just like one huge snarl of red.
But also California, up and down the coast … there’s just that whole thing … I’ve done that several times. I’ve been very lucky to be able to read the Pacific Coast Highway many times, right? It gives you a sense of this great visual sense of how much territory, how much ground you’ve covered.
And I think that’s a little rewarding for me. Day-to-day it’s hard to get a sense of what you’re doing sometimes. Especially like when you’re around other people who are a little out there, to like, you know, pack up your life, pare down your belongings and then go ride for months and months, even years. It’s nice to be able to have this one map that like, “Well, here’s one visual representation of what I’ve gotten up to. Well, maybe not why …
Okay, let’s go back to the main title of this: what really matters in life to you now?
That’s a tough question for anyone.
No, I never said it was gonna be an easy interview. But I think these are really core questions that are …
I want to say “people”, like relationships with people really give meaning to a lot of travel. Because aside from the geography and the road that you’re moving along, it’s people that introduces you to a different culture, or people who might help you, or that maybe you might inspire. People that you form friendships with, and then maybe hang on to those friendships for many years to come. Connecting with people. Yeah.
Okay, what else? Biggest life lessons here?
The life lessons?
Yeah, actually, let’s go down to this one too, because I think this is such a big part of motorcycle riding is – what do you need, and what do you not need? You’ve learned to really pare it down to what matters in stuff. Right? And I don’t mean what’s your clothing list? But what are the things you really need to live a …
A meaningful life?
I think the motorcycle is actually a very good tool for that. Because it does force you to look at what’s in your life and weigh what is important to you. And the things that are important to you are the ones that you’ll take with you.
I think for a lot of extended overland travelers, you’ll find that “stuff” is usually not high on that list. Material possession is … you realize you don’t need very much of that. It’s great when you have the right stuff.
Like I definitely want my warmest year if I’m doing a mountain pass in Colorado. So the right stuff – about finding the right things, maybe even the right people. Like when you meet influential people, and like you might meet them for just a day or afternoon. And that particular interaction with that person will have such an impact on you that you carry that with you for a long time, even though you might have only spent a couple hours chatting with one or two people/
So again, we’re coming back to connection.
Obviously the motorcycle is not the only tool that helps to filter that down. And really it’s like a focusing lens because it limits you. And again, I feel like I thrive under that kind of limitation. It’s better for me to “let’s start with a smaller bike where I’m not just going to blast through everything. All right, let’s start with a bike where I can’t carry everything. Let’s start with the United States.” That’s a pretty big area, but it’s good to like “we’ll start there and grow from there.”
Okay, another one that I think you mentioned, and this could be a fun exploration is magic. “Allow for magic.”
Yeah, definitely leave room for magic. I don’t want to say it would be a boring trip. If you plan a motorcycle getaway, and everything goes according to plan, it doesn’t sound very exciting. I mean, it could be. Maybe for someone else that would be like the perfect trip. But I would recommend always leave room for a mishap, or a misadventure, and often that makes for the best experiences – or at least a very good story. As long as you’re not coming to terrible harm.
So leave room for magic.
Final question. For somebody else that wants to do this, or is thinking about it? Well, this could apply to men and women. But since you’re a woman that’s traveled around and done this whole adventure thing, what tips would you have for others that are thinking about doing it?
An extended motorcycle trip?
We could break that down into two parts. One would be the extended motorcycle trip. But another would be just something big. You know, like doing a motorcycle adventure is big. But they may have their own. Maybe it’s to hike the Pacific Crest Trail or go visit some country that they’ve never been to, and they’re they’ve never left their state before, or even their town.
Definitely. I’m sure a lot of other people have said this, but picking a date is really a good way to start. Just commit to a date. And tell family and friends this is it. Otherwise, it’s very easy to just keep putting it off. So pick a date, that would be a great place to start.
And pick a realistic date. Maybe not like tomorrow if you don’t have a driver’s license and you want to ride a Jeep around the world or something. So do some research into how long it would take to be about ready to go.
Again, you’ll never really be ready. But “about ready”, and then pick a date. Again that comes back to “you’ll never really be ready. I still don’t feel ready!
A lot of times for any sort of big endeavor it’s or even small endeavors of like, I’ve totally been around New Hampshire before and still it’s like, “Okay, a little bit nervous.” Bhaving a date to stick to and to work against – to plan against that date – is I found it very helpful.
Okay, so having a date and committing to it. What else?
Being okay with fear or nervousness. Because that is completely normal. If you’re going somewhere outside of your comfort zone, I think it’s pretty natural that you’d be nervous or a little fearful or have some anxiety over it.
And how can they do that? What’s the process? Or do you have any tips on how to do that?
I feel like accepting it is probably the best response to that. I think, for me, recognizing that if I couldn’t describe what exactly my worst case scenario is, it’s not a very rational fear, then. If I have come up with like, “Oh, this would be the worst.” Like, I’ve broken down in the rain or whatever. And there’s no one around to help me. And then to think about “what exactly what I do there?” And to realize that, “I could probably figure something out.”
If it is if it’s life threatening. It’s like “Well, don’t go into the desert without water.” Don’t be foolish. But definitely don’t succumb to fear just because you’re experiencing some fear.
So face the fear, accept the fear, face the fear and do it anyway” or …
Do it anyway. Yeah, I people underestimate how often I am afraid. Maybe “afraid” is not the right word for it. But, I do get nervous before setting off.
Apprehensive, yeah. There’s still a little bundle of butterflies. And that’s part of what’s so exciting about it – is that it still gets a bit of a response. And I don’t know if I want that to go away. I think that’s part of the process.
So knowing that, and knowing that doesn’t mean that this is a terrible idea and you shouldn’t do this. Knowing that – just having some of those butterflies is actually a good thing. Maybe that’s helpful for some people.
And anything else?
I think a lot of times you’ll pick up skills as you go. So having faith, and having faith in yourself. Trusting yourself to be capable goes a long way. And that’s a difficult thing to internalize.
So if people want to learn more about you, where can they go on the web to learn more about this?
My blog is at 250superhero.com. That will have all of my daily drawings, all 430 or whatever. I had some comics to about the process before I took off. So some of the paring down, and some of the getting ready. So there’s a lot of drawings there.
And I also continue to do photo journal posts. They’re still dates from my latest travels up to Alaska. All of that is at 250superhero.com.
Okay, so that’s the best place to go to?
Probably, yeah. If you’re interested in my professional where you can look up my name – Stephanie Yue. And StephanieYue.com is my portfolio site. Or you can just type it into Amazon and all of my books with my name on it will show up.
Okay, Stephanie, thank you so much for your time. And wow, this has been exciting. I really enjoyed this exploration.
I will post some links, hopefully wherever this will be visible on my own website WhatReallyMattersInterviews.com. And there should be podcast notes and things like that. Thank you for your time and allowing us to have a peek into this life of yours that is really intriguing and inspiring.
Thank you for chatting with me. I hope I managed to answer some of your questions.
I think he answered a lot of them.