Physically, Moin Khan fits the archetypal Marlon Brandon-esque, leather jacket wearing, Triumph motorcycle riding rebel.
But once he starts talking this biker-rebel archetype gets confused and replaced with that of a concerned nationalist slash nonchalant, down to earth guy looking to uphold the continuum between his dual American-Pakistani identities.
I caught up with Khan when he landed in New York, having just ended the first leg of a journey that will continue on till the end of this year.
As he hovered at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, waiting for a flight to take him across the pond to London, he let me in on the public as well as the undisclosed, unpublished details of what is quickly becoming recognized as a global and unprecedented adventure.
On July 10th, Khan embarked from the Golden Gate Bridge in his city of San Francisco on a 25, 000 mile motorcycle diaries-esque journey that will take him around the world, back to his hometown of Lahore, Pakistan.
Now, nearly two months into his journey, Khan’s clocked 6300 miles on an odometer designed to collect that amount in a couple of years.
He’s touched both the western and eastern coasts of North America—traversing both the US and Canada—with 110 pounds in addition to his own body weight.
He’s done all this on a 2002 Honda CBR600 F4i—a small, quick sport bike built for racetrack racing.
And, with half his journey remaining, once his bike’s shipped to Germany in mid-September, Khan will pick up where he’s left off, climbing down the Euro-Asia landscape towards Lahore.
Just what compelled this twenty-four year old recent San Francisco State University grad to leave a comfy, well-paying position at a San Mateo start-up?
“It was not just one thing” which spurred him into action, Khan says.
“Everything feels like it’s going down the drain [back home]. In the last six years [abroad] I haven’t read one positive thing about Pakistan. Personally we [Pakistanis] know the good things” adding as a poignant example, “Coke Studio is doing a brilliant job—I have friends here I share links with and they love it – but Laal Masjid, to Zardari in power, to match-fixing, to suicide attacks—I haven’t seen one positive thing in the news”.
But during his epic, solo journey, Khan isn’t just suffering from delusions of grandiosity. Instead, he recognizes the complexities of singlehandedly addressing the far too many negative impressions of Pakistan aired in front of a global audience in this year alone.
“I wasn’t thinking it would be me. I wasn’t planning on this. All I was thinking: there has to be one thing—from such a large population—there has to be one person, one thing, that one time."
And for Khan, making amends and the patching up of reputations is a two-way street.
“I’m not just doing this for a better image of Pakistan. There exists a degree of hatred [for some] towards America and the West and I want to set it straight.” This is why Khan, despite travelling up to twelve hours a day, provides video updates for the thousands who are following his journey.
By cataloguing encounters with absolute strangers who have along the way bestowed Khan with simple, unconditional acts of kindness, he showcases a North America that holds true to its image as bastion of hope and diversity.
Whether it’s a family providing room and board for the night or a couple guiding an absolute stranger towards the Montana/Alberta border (by personally driving in front of him) for Khan these acts of generosity are not just one-dimensional, one-off experiences.
“Everyone is so busy. You would think no one does these things,” Khan tells me noting that these encounters have made him “a lot more open and accepting…it’s not about a free night, free meal, it’s about taking a stranger into your home and letting them sit at your dining table…and I want to tell Pakistanis and those in the West this”.
Born and raised in Lahore, in 2005 Khan moved to start university in San Francisco, just days after graduating high school.
“In my family there is no planning – the way I came to the US was just a week before with my dad saying ‘here’s your ticket to America’.”
Following Khan’s clues of his and his family’s impulsive aversion to planning, I start better understanding why this man crazily enough left everything and stepped out with no fixed place to stay at night, no GPS, minimal map-reading skills, a bike which tried to quit in Chicago and Seattle (but so far is forced into submission), and savings that are facing unexpected blows (Khan had not anticipated just how much water he’d be consuming daily and is now averaging $10 a day on water bottles).
This nonchalant impulsiveness also explains Khan’s mode of transportation. During our interview he receives an email from the shipping company responsible for transporting his beloved sport bike, upon which the journey is contingent, across the Atlantic, causing me to wonder out loud how an affair with motorbikes began for a relatively preppy business student.
“I was eleven when a carpenter came for woodwork estimates to our house. He forgot his key in the ignition, so I stole it and went all over Lahore until it ran out of gas, at which point I just left it somewhere and walked back” Khan tells me. (Feeling a little alarmed for the bicharah carpenter I’m told that Khan’s mother ended up driving him out to his bike).
This young love continued to grow. When his kari saab would visit for Qu’ran lessons he said “I would negotiate and would hold the keys while read[ing] the Qu’ran” after which the kari saab would permit a ride on his motorbike.
Now that he’s finally gotten the bike, journey, and open road of his dreams, what will five months on the road look like, I ask.
“I’m not a tourist. I hate sightseeing and all the famous things everyone wants to see. When I get off the bike I’m really tired,” he tells me. After a day on the road it seems that all energy is directed into food, social media updates, and sleep.
But hours of solitude on a stretch of road—doesn’t that do all sorts of things to one’s mind? Even for a self-described positive guy who strongly adheres to the concept of maktub (an Arabic saying meaning that one’s destiny is, "already written.")
Khan claims to tell me what he has told no one.
“It’s really weird…I’m so excited when I am riding every day that I am just screaming in my helmet…I’ll just start singing the loudest I can,” he laughs. His playlist seems to be itemized from random to random with Pakistan’s cricket world cup anthem ‘Jazba-e-Junoon’ to Tupac’s ‘California Love’.
At this point, I realize I’ve kept Khan talking for just under an hour—on what is his first day off since his journey began.
Since he’s clearly too polite and chivalrous to remind me of our 20-minute-chat pact, I decide to pry and ask just how he’s responding to all the inevitable female attention that comes with being a social-activist-cum-world-tour
“I’m just one guy. I know I can’t change the whole country," he continues. "But maybe if I can ignite a spark in five people, and they can inspire ten more—well, that’s how fires spread.”
Follow Moin Khan’s journey here.