It is generally accepted as comprehensible, the Once in a Lifetime Adventure beloved of vicarious travelers, to spend three years going around the world with your girlfriend and a soon-to-be battered-looking motorcycle. The public adores it, the idea of someone doing what they would do, if only they could take the time, get free from work, family, all the bonds we spend years tying about our own ankles. So these collect sponsorships (cold-weather underwear, aluminum hard cases), stop by the wayside to write accounts for the blog the world is booting up to read, and publish a book when they return. There’s a lot of riding, but there’s a lot of people-ing, too (the readability factor demands Interesting Encounters). Hotels, hot meals, nights in tents as opposed to the saddle. Seventy or eighty years ago, an individual could easily make a First: first man around the world, first woman, first sidecar. Now you have to work to even think up some minor fillip that would make it new. In the case of Norwegians Tormod Amlien and Klaus Ulvestad, outlandish humor alone could have been their contribution to the 70,000-mile journey (self-titled the King Croesus Contempt for Death “world’s dumbest motorcycle trip” begun in 2009), but they decided to gild the lily by undertaking it on two 1939 Nimbus machines with sidecars “piloted by pure idiots.” Extraordinary, even grueling, though it remains, the round-the-world trip is . . . travel. And travel is the antithesis of the Iron Butt enterprise. Round-the-world the Iron Butt way is covering 19,030 miles in 31 days and 20 hours, as Nick Sanders did, to enter the Guinness Book of World Records.
This yearning to break a record (largest chocolate-chip cookie ever baked; longest solo flight) is a purely human deviation from animal nature. Yet it has become profoundly in our nature to do such essentially unnatural things as expend energy in otherwise fruitless acts. The patently absurd things we do—swim across the