Mark Warford - The magic of living an adventurous life
Highly acclaimed for his worldview creative work, Mark Warford is a CLIO award-winning director, producer, environmentalist, conservationist, and author. Warford has also directed creative and strategic operations for the likes of Agence France-Presse (AFP), Getty Images, Greenpeace and 'We Are The World 2'.
Mark Warford has written with, directed and produced notable international artists such as Eurythmics co-founder, David A. Stewart, platinum-selling British soul singer, Joss Stone, and luminaries such as the Dalai Lama and Harry Belafonte.
Mark Warford teamed with Sir Anthony Hopkins to produce the CLIO-award winning spot, ACT. Written and directed by Mark Warford, the :60 sec spot deals with the plight of whales being hunted for scientific purposes.
As a senior director and member of the international program council of Greenpeace USA and Greenpeace International respectively, Mark Warford was engaged in a multitude of frontline environmental justice activities stretching from the Russian Arctic to the atolls of the South Pacific and beyond. As an award-winning documenter of environmental protest on issues ranging from nuclear testing to toxic trade to climate change, Warford communicated a rare and valuable insight to the plight of the natural world, often witnessing firsthand the severe and irreversible impact of humanity’s wrongdoing.
His life is deeply inspired by his passion for motorcycles. As a true Motorcycle Adventurer, we had the pleasure to interview him where he shows his rebel and beautiful soul and teach us all the magic of living an adventurous life.
- You are an award-winning Director, Producer, Photographer, Musician, Author, and Humanitarian. In a life so full, how do you manage to still have time to pick your motorcycle and just....ride?
My motorcycles are my mechanical partners in crime; they are a part of my everyday life, no matter what the weather. I’m sure this harkens back to growing up partly in eastern New Mexico, USA, where the skin-peeling winds dominate the weather year-round, and in the UK, in the Midlands, where grey skies and rain thrive like there’s some kind of permanent, dirty smudge in the atmosphere. Faced with those conditions as a young rider, one soon becomes immune to the normal detractions of life on two wheels. If you don’t respond well to discomfort as a young rider, chances are you won’t do so well when you’re older. I do admit though, that because I actively choose motorcycles as my primary transportation, I hardly ever wander aimlessly or ride just for the sake of riding. But then again, living in the canyons on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, as I have most recently for the last ten years, getting around was not only quicker but a knee-dragging blast. I’m in New York now, it’s a different scene, fewer riders overall and you have to pile on a few more layers from October thru March, but I wouldn’t hear of stowing my machines for the winter as most folks do. I just don’t understand that.
- How would you describe your passion for motorcycles? Does it inspire you in your artistic life? How?
Well, I draw the line at taking them out for dinner, of course, but they are truly the most incredible and, for me, indispensable inventions. In its most basic form, a motorcycle is nothing more than an engine suspended between two wheels, incapable of standing without aid. And yet, we relate to them as though a soul has emerged from some hidden steel crevice; as though an actual personality was able to be forged from tubes of steel and blocks of aluminum. This is the realm of great works of art and music, works that embody the magnitude of the human spirit. Well, such is the motorcycle to those that have experienced that unique moment of clarity; that sudden exhilaration when the sun hits you just right, and the road opens up, and all that matters is here and now and moving ever forward.
For some, motorcycles are a utility that is necessary to participate in a sport or a pastime; for some, the machines are the embodiment of a trend or a larger social statement; a decoration adopted for a particular stage of their lives. For me, it’s both an anchor and a confessional. There is a grand and obvious romance to the motorcycle that I believe stems from the most simplistic connection of mind and matter – in the act of being propelled forward, so exposed, we are as one with the elements and so with the universe. I can’t speak for others, but this self-imposed, low-level flight occupies one part of my brain so effectively that the other simply explodes with creative thought – ideas are conceived, melodies are composed, passages are written, anxieties are eradicated – all at the twist of a throttle. Astonishing, really. In fact, I had just such a ‘moment’ quite recently. I like to get away during the final stages of a piece of work. It’s a great way to focus. In this case I chose the Mojave Desert. I was going over the final draft of my second novel and struggling with some edits when I hit a literary wall. Nothing else to do but ride it out. Not another soul for miles, throttle pinned on a fully loaded KTM 990 ADVR, pushing well beyond my normal comfort zone. I skirted a wash of deep sand only to graze a ridge of sandstone and nearly lost my ass completely. It brought me to a stop in a cloud of dust and cursing and confusion and after a few moments, exhilaration. In camp, later that night I rewrote an entire chapter, clear of mind. What had seemed insurmountable only hours before now presented itself with such alarming clarity that it was kind of spooky.
Building and restoring old machines is also of huge benefit to my work. The tactile act of taking a bucket of rusty bolts, tangled wires, and a sagging frame and wrenching life back into what had been discounted as a pile of junk is nothing short of primal therapy for mind and body and soul. I just finished another in a long line of Triumph Bonnevilles that came to me as a basket case. To kick through the compression and hear an engine start up after being resigned to the scrap heap is so intensely satisfying.
- Do you prefer riding alone or with friends? Why?
I’ve never traveled long distances in a group. I don’t know if I’d be the best company as the appeal for me on a multi-day/week/month journey is to become invisible. As a photojournalist for the majority of my career, a learned habit of blending-in has been hard to shake. I tend to seek out the most honest version of events I come across, whether that be a conflict zone or a scene of environmental devastation or a roadside food stall. I abhor the caravans of late-to-the-party, once-a-year travelers decked out and farkled out, clad head to toe in shiny, new gear that paints them as consumers, not travelers. They are completely oblivious to the nuance of culture and tone. That goes for gangs, too. Show me a group intent on making a social statement because of the sheer numbers of riders in tow and I’ll show you a band of folks that have never held a passport.
- What's the weirdest thing that has happened to you while on an adventure?
I’ve pursued a pretty nomadic life and career and it’s seen me multiple times in the Russian and Canadian arctic on expeditions and assignments; chasing pirate fishers in the Mediterranean; tracking nuclear fuel shipments across the Indian ocean; documenting nuclear testing in the south Pacific; exposing illegal toxic waste shipments in the Philippines and dangling from more doors of more helicopters, camera in hand, that is advisable. I’ve been held by the KGB, arrested by the Chinese navy, knocked unconscious by French National Gendarmerie (military police) while covering protests of an arms fair, and simultaneously burned and frostbitten while photographing an oil pipeline spill that had been set alight in December in Siberia, but for a strictly “aha” moment during a dedicated motorcycle trip, I will offer the crossing of a tributary by a small ferry in Ecuador, not too far from Guayaquil. Late in the day, it was me and the motorcycle and a few people making their way over on foot, squeezed quite happily onto this leaky old barge pushed along by a tiny outboard. The engine gives out mid-river (of course, it does) and we float around for a bit. Turns out it’s a gas, or lack thereof, an issue which I was able to sort. So, in the midst of gurgling a few liters from my tank, the water around the boat starts to become disturbed, audibly so. Thankfully there was no rail to obscure the view as forty or so pilot whales surfaced all around. They were like stepping stones stretching from one bank to the other. Utterly beautiful and so graceful as they gently submerged in unison. If you’d have blinked you would have missed it. What was weird? The locals were clearly more amused by my reaction - like it had been a prearranged joke.
- And the most amazing one?
Oh, that’s easy.., and in keeping with the ferry/fuel theme, having my motorcycle strapped to a reindeer sleigh and galloped for twenty miles across the frozen tundra in the Komi Republic. I wish I could bottle the experience of being with true, hardy indigenous survivors. It is a feeling, I have learned, that is almost impossible to articulate. I later went back to photograph these herdsmen in the depths of winter as part of a story on oil pollution eradicating the reindeer herds in the Arctic. The portraits from that shoot ended up being some of the strongest I have produced in my career (which is a testament to the people of the Arctic) and coupled with the oil fire coverage, made for a nice first show in National Geographic magazine.
- Your first motorcycle was...?
As a kid, 1968 Honda Z50; As a teen on the road, Suzuki AP50
- Your present motorcycle is...?
2012 KTM 990 ADVR; 2018 Harley Heritage Softail; 1971, 1974, 1979 Triumph Bonneville’s, 2008 Harley XR1200, 1972 & 1976 Suzuki GT500’s.
- Wheelies: yes or no?
When the devil comes to visit.
- The most amazing countries to go to on an adventure are? (Give a Top 5 based on your adventures)
3. Colombia / Ecuador
4. South East Asia
“What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?”
I’ll answer both.
If it’s present-giving time and you haven’t got it, you’re getting WANDERER by Sterling Hayden. I will refrain from writing ten thousand words on why every restless soul should read this, but I will offer that no matter what your life experience may be, you will at once be inspired, intimidated and invigorated by the time you are done reading.
As far as other influential books, along with the aforementioned, here’s a few more, literally dripping with character and adventure:
1. Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia)
2. South: The ENDURANCE Expedition by Ernest Shackleton
A special mention too, for ‘One Man Caravan’, a document of Robert Edison Fulton's solo round-the-world tour on a two-cylinder Douglas motorcycle in 1932, and frankly, anything Nick Sanders writes. When the current mass appeal ‘flavor of the month’ popularity of ADV motorcycling levels out, Sanders’ observations will remain a vital touchstone to link the old with the new. I highly recommend spending some time with his work.
For the road addicted amongst us, conscious of lugging too much weight, the beauty of the books listed is their ability to withstand multiple readings.
- What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life as a motorcycle adventurer in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
Without a doubt, CJ Designs – KTM LC8 Adventure Oil Tank Drain Hose Kit. Makes a parking lot oil change a breeze.
- What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love to do while riding your motorcycle?
I’m sure it’s not unusual, but I need tunes in my helmet on long rides. I’ve gone to great lengths with speaker mods to get great sound quality at a lower volume.
- In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life as a motorcycle adventurer?”
Carry less; worry less.
- Can you give any advice to all the motorcycle adventurers out there that love adventure on 2 wheels?
The temptation here is to get all Marcus Aurelias or Aristotle-ized by imparting clichéd wisdom, but there are so many hacks out there already raiding those coffers. So instead, I shall refer my fellow travelers to the book of common sense – “for every mile of road, there are two miles of ditch.” That takes care of that. Okay, I can’t resist a little op-ed erudition based on experience, though, not opinion. To all two-wheeled fanatics, when we travel we are healers. We have the unique ability to represent so much more than ourselves and therefore unite fractures in cultures and societies at the most intimate levels. It’s a responsibility I take seriously when engaging with anyone I meet on the road. But to do so, we need to drop a little of the pretense I’m witnessing with increasing regularity. If you ride through an impoverished community on a thirty-thousand-dollar motorcycle, piled six-feet high with enough supplies to mount both the Dakar and Baja Rallies and scale Everest, dressed from head to toe in five-thousand dollars’ worth of Astro-fabric, you’re not an adventurer, you’re a tourist. We’ve entered a time where the manufacturing industry is dictating the confluence of a community-wide arrogance based upon acquiring possessions and the decreased desire to invite risk into the equation - trepidation and fear about crossing certain borders being the epitome of such a trend. Scaling down is a good thing. You will see more and more will see you. Motorcycling is about getting hot and cold and wet and uncomfortable. Think about that the next time you are riding through Senegal and a ten-year-old boy wearing flip-flops, riding a Honda step-thru dusts you with a beaming smile and hearty wave.
- Are you working on any new project now that you would like to share with us?
My mantra is to have five projects on the go, all the time, regardless of time constraints. Three of the five are coming to fruition right now and all of them feature a motorcycle somewhere along the line. Go figure. All are detailed on my website at www.markwarford.com and I’m occasionally on Instagram, @markwarford .
A VOYAGE FOR SOLDIER MILES
With support from my colleagues, Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and Swedish sonic artist, Leif .e. Boman, I created a music-driven allegory that is being produced for cinema, stage and audio release. ‘A Voyage For Soldier Miles’ is a story of conflict. It’s about our legacy, and it’s a journey of discovery - an awakening to a powerful, invisible and universal force our world has held secret since time began.
The premise deals with the understanding that nothing ever truly disappears. And so, carried around the world for millennia on currents of air and water, the sounds of generations of tears has been unlocked. And as Earth’s atmosphere remains the guardian of these truths, three characters, representing the soul, frustration, and idealism of humanity, take the audience on one serious, incredible journey.
I will say, from the emotive opening introduction by Archbishop Desmund Tutu right through to the grand finale, your pulse just revs and revs. I think this is going to be one hell of an experience.
THEN CAME.., ME?
I’ve always wanted to do a series of more thoughtful road movie/ travelogues that are relevant to our times. The driving force here is showcasing how the unlikely can become the extraordinary – hence the title and my repeated directive that ‘Then Came .., Me?’ is not about me. I’m writing, filming and presenting but the focus is ultimately on the strength of the human spirit. I'm also including animation in the form of 'yin and yang' co-travelers. It'll be a refreshing change from dull and obvious travel shows.
THE THOMAS MUIR NOVELS: SKY BLUE SKY and SAYS WHO?
My escapism, I guess. But again, not without purpose. Only this time, I wanted to collide the contemporary action-thriller with writing that is deemed more literary fiction than airport paperback. The first two are published and doing very well. I highly recommend the audiobook version. The narration is world-class. Available at Amazon.com and Audible.com respectively.