Vernon adventurer takes two-wheels through Tibet

Two months ago, James Leigh drove a Royal Enfield 500 classic motorcycle up the eastern coast of Vietnam and into China — a trip most would have deemed a death ride.

Ultimately, Leigh said it’s not death he’s afraid of, it’s mediocrity.

Having led a successful career as a U.S. security consultant, he was part of the U.S. Justice Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service unit who executed a successful undercover operation in China. He’s also worked in several war zones including Afghanistan, partook in a house-to-house clearing in Bagdad, jumped from a plane in Kuwait but missed his landing zone and was stranded alone in the desert for two days.

Oh, and he was also sent to Mount Everest four times looking for North Korean Scud missiles being shipped over the Himalayas. As if that weren’t enough, he was even imprisoned in North Korea last year. Adventure is his way of life.

Related: Okanagan adventurer takes two wheels through Vietnam, China

Related: Local confined in North Korea

Though his home base is Vernon, there aren’t too many countries he hasn’t visited, not much he hasn’t seen. But, he said, this most recent ride through China and Tibet may have been the most jarring; almost ironic.

Starting where he finished his last trip, he began his newest adventure in Kunming — the capital and largest city of Yunnan province in southwest China — and made his way north towards Tibet.

(Video contributed)

“The route was very different than my first one because there were lots of winding roads and there were lots of times that in two hours I’d only make it about 50 km. I could have used a more powerful bike this time.”

Because the road was so desolate, he had to bring tools so he could fix his tires and brakes when necessary. The further away from the city he got, the fewer people were on the roads, but that didn’t make it any safer — or less intense.

“They all drive just as crazy. There are times when you’re on the road where there’s sheep and goats and cows and buses crowded with people and you’re trying to drive through all of that on the side of a mountain. So it was often pretty dangerous and it was really slow at times but really tough on the bike.”

He said that the closer he got to Tibet, the more the Buddhist culture presented. The more rugged and nomadic the people were, the less stressed they seemed. He said that while driving through the Himalayas, he was often inspired to stop and hike. Though there was no road, he said that when he climbed far enough, he’d often come across a remote village.

“They have no road to their villages because they live in really remote areas of the Tibetan part of the Himalayas. Although they’re pretty stone-age, the people are pretty nice,” Leigh said. “It’s like you’re Indiana Jones and you’re riding a motorcycle and the further you get into the trip, the further back in time you go.”

He said what made this trip so interesting was the contradiction between China and Tibet. China is caught up in the rat race, each generation wanting more for their children — more money, more success. There’s a strong focus on advancement. He said that the closer he travelled toward Tibet, the more content people seem to be. He wondered if it is the lack of technology that allows them a better sense of inner peace.

“I’m not a religious guy, but you can honestly feel how peaceful the Tibetan people are. One thing I’ve learned is that there are two types of people: those who are at peace with themselves and those who aren’t. You go into that region and you can see that they are happy to have their tent and their fire. They’re content with their life. So it’s interesting because you’re not just moving environmentally or geographically, you’re also moving culturally — from the hustle and bustle of China and these huge cities and you’re slowly going towards this peaceful Tibetan, Buddhist environment. It’s very weird because the distance compared to the change is insane.”

The second stretch of his motorcycle adventure took about three weeks and ended in Lhasa, Tibet. But, he said he’s far from calling it quits.

“At first I thought it’d just be fun and the bike was cheap and I thought I’d just ride around Saigon but then everyone was so impressed and I thought, are you kidding me? I’ve jumped out of planes and been to countless war zones and done all this crazy stuff and this you’re impressed by? So I just kept riding and now, it’s sort of cool because I’m not planning it out. “

Leigh said that he thinks it will end up being a six-part around the world tour. He plans to return in about a month and, weather and politics depending, continue his ride to Kazakhstan, then Europe, then back to America for a tour a little closer to home.

“As I was riding, I was realizing that I probably won’t be jumping out of airplanes or going into wars or finding myself detained in North Korea, so I just kept riding because it just can’t be over. This will be how I’ll stay alive and it’ll be what keeps me going.”

Related: Newsmakers of the year

Related: SilverStar Resort hosts motorcycle weekend

Related: Call for adventure leads couple ‘home’

To report a typo, email:
newstips@vernonmorningstar.com
.



Follow me on Twitter @BrieChar
Email me brieanna.charlebois@vernonmorningstar.com
Like us on
James Leigh drove a Royal Enfield 500 classic motorcycle up the eastern coast of Vietnam and into China and Tibet. (Photo contributed)
James Leigh drove a Royal Enfield 500 classic motorcycle up the eastern coast of Vietnam and into China and Tibet. (Photo contributed)
Leigh said that the further north he rode, the roads became less busy and more crowded — by buses, sheep, cows and goats. (Photo contributed)
Leigh bought the bike in Saigon on a whim and now plans to do a six-part ride around the world. (Photo contributed)
The roads thinned and became more winding the further north he rode. (Photo contributed)
Having led a successful career as a U.S. security consultant, Leigh has decided this is going to be his newest adventure. (Photo contributed)
The second lag of the trip began in Kunming, China and finished three weeks later in Lhasa, Tibet. (Photo contributed)

Just Posted

Busy day for Penticton Search and Rescue

PENSAR was called to three separate incidents Sunday, Dec. 16

Coldstream retirement community sees seniors helping seniors

The seventh annual Seniors Helping Seniors at Coldstream Meadows Retirement Community was Dec. 2

New Dog O Pogo facility shines in Coldstream

First agility match in the new facility was Dec. 9

Warm weather ahead for Okanagan-Shuswap

Environment Canada says no snow at lower altitudes until Wednesday night

Car crash on hwy 97 closes lanes

Officers are directing traffic around the incident that closed lanes heading toward Armstrong.

REPLAY: B.C’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at the replay-worth highlights from this week across the province

Canucks score 3 power-play goals in 4-2 win over Oilers

Vancouver sniper Boeser has 6 goals in last 5 games

Book Talk: Series stand outs

Novels in a great series can stand on their own

Microscopic parasite found in Prince Rupert water affecting thousands

More than 12,000 residents affected by the boil water advisory issued Dec. 14

Trudeau lashes out at Conservatives over migration “misinformation”

Warning against the “dangers of populism,” Trudeau says using immigration as a wedge political issue puts Canada’s future at risk.

B.C. hockey coach creates ‘gear library’ to remove cost barrier of sport

Todd Hickling gathered donations and used gear to remove the cost barrier for kids to play hockey.

CSRD Wants help figuring out antique survey equipment

The piece of equipment was used by Peter Jennings to map out the North Fork Wild near Craigellachie

White: Don’t be a Scrooge like me

It gets to the point where you simply can’t avoid Christmas no matter how hard you try.

Kelowna Gospel Mission celebrates Grandpa Lloyd’s success

In a video it shares how an outreach worker helped get Lloyd off the streets

Most Read