By Dave Hendrick
"Whatever job I have next, whether it’s in a big corporate office or a small business, I’ll always be able to go back to that glass and tap that joy that I’ve had through these experiences."
Eric Bernath (MBA '08
In July, University of Virginia Darden School of Business alumnus Eric Bernath (MBA ’08) crossed what was to be his final border of a 100,000-mile trip around the world, riding his motorcycle into his home state of Michigan after an epic 65 country, 50-state road trip conducted on his Suzuki V-Strom 650 motorcycle.
It’s a journey — conducted solo with little more than clothes, camping equipment and a camera, and exhaustively documented on Instagram (@twowheelsonejourney) — that took Bernath from a May 2016 start in California across seven continents — yes, he made it to Antarctica — from Argentina to Zambia.
Speaking during a brief stop in Denver during the final leg of his journey, the 42-year-old Bernath said he saw a rare opportunity to take a “miniretirement” from the working world and satiate his longstanding curiosity about the wider world.
“It was an opportunity to take a break from the Monday to Friday routine and open a blank slate and embrace some new ideas and perspectives,” Bernath said. “I had a good thing going on, but realized I had that one chance in life you get when there is nothing holding you down, and you can explore a little bit and grow a little bit if you have the opportunity.”
At the beginning, Bernath said he sent his farewells to his colleagues at a Southern California biopharmaceutical company, gave away most everything he owned and began riding his motorcycle across the world. He started up the West Coast to Alaska; back down to Chile and Antarctica, across the Atlantic Ocean to South Africa and up to Scandinavia, through the Middle East and Southeast Asia, over to Australia and New Zealand, and finally the remainder of the United States.
He also made it to his 20-year Darden School Reunion in May. Thanks in part to his devoted Instagram following, Bernath said he could mostly skip the obligatory “What are you up to these days?” questions.
The takeaways from two years of travel on a bike don’t lend themselves to quick summaries, but Bernath said most would be surprised by the general friendliness of the world, even in regions with reputations for danger.
“I went through Iran, Colombia, El Salvador, and I met some of the most genuine, honest and welcoming people in those places that you can imagine,” Bernath said. “People who surprised you by offering as much as they can give, regardless of how little they have.”
In Iran, strangers insisted on inviting him for tea or a meal, for instance, for no other reason than he was a stranger in their midst. In South America, passengers routinely braked their trucks to inquire if he was alright during his frequent stops to reorient with Google Maps.
“The motto I heard other riders say is ‘today you, tomorrow me,’” Bernath said. “So, if you have a problem on the road, they are looking to help you out because tomorrow they could be in the same situation.”
Finding places to eat and sleep were rarely an issue, Bernath said, adding that “a smile and wave” go a long way toward breaking down language barriers and ingratiating one’s self into a foreign community.
The one time his bike required a repair, when the rear tire gave out in rural Chile, Bernath said passersby loaded his bike into a pickup truck, and took him to the lone mechanic in town, a 91-year-old man operating out of his driveway. The man diagnosed the issue and began to work on the bike, and told Bernath — quite seriously, in Spanish — he knew why he had suffered a breakdown.
“He said ‘I know exactly why your bike stopped. I was very bored today and I needed company, so God made it so you would visit,’” Bernath recalled. “You just realize that people want to smile and look for ways to help you one way or another.”
Trekking through the U.S. in the final stages of the journey, visiting Niagara Falls, Key West, the Grand Canyon and all of the American curiosities in between, Bernath said he is experiencing the land and the people for the first time, even in spots where he’s been before. That’s partially due to the motorcycle, which Bernath said is a natural barrier-breaker.
“When you are in a car or SUV, no one is really knocking on your window at the gas station and saying hello or asking how you’re going,” said Bernath. “When you are on a motorcycle, people just walk up to you any place you’re at and want to share a moment of your time. You realize quickly that adds joy to their day, but also to yours.”
Bernath, who had never been on a motorcycle before this adventure, reflected another anecdote he picked up on the road: “Driving a car on a long road trip is akin to watching a movie, but when you are riding a motorcycle, it is like you are in the movie.”
Now, with the credits set to role on this particular movie, Bernath said he’s ready to step back into the working world, ideally in the medical field.
“I am not one who is wanderlusting to have this drag on forever,” Bernath said. “I have satisfied that curiosity to the extent that I wanted to on this particular trip, and it’s been a great way to learn some important life lessons.”
Bernath said his two-year global motorcycle trip bore similarities to his two years at Darden, describing both as opportunities to replenish and even remake one’s self through curiosity.
“You get to fill that glass up with whatever you’re learning and you become a new person,” Bernath said. “Whatever job I have next, whether it’s in a big corporate office or a small business, I’ll always be able to go back to that glass and tap that joy that I’ve had through these experiences.”
Instagram Highlights From Bernath’s 7-Continent Road Trip
About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.