I dropped my camera bag on the bar, my helmet on the barstool, flagged down the barkeep, and ordered a beer, feeling very strongly that I deserved it.
This particular watering hole was positioned directly across from my departure gate in the international terminal of the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. As a traveler who prefers arriving hours early for regular domestic flights, let alone a 16-hour flight halfway around the world with a travel itinerary that allowed no margin for error, this was way too close for comfort. My flight would board in less than 20 minutes.
Taking a sip of my beer, I breathed an audible sigh of relief. It may have been close, but at least I made it. And given everything else that had gone awry in the planning for this trip, delays in getting to the airport seemed almost too fitting. But I’m probably getting ahead of myself, so let’s back up.
Planning an unforgettable trip and a labor-intensive video
This story is a behind-the-scenes look at what went into the planning for filming a two-week-long motorcycle trip for RevZilla’s YouTube channel. Specifically, for an upcoming episode of Common Tread XP.
CTXP, as it’s more commonly known, is a show focused on motorcycle experiences ranging from sweepingly ambitious to absurdly silly. It debuted on RevZilla’s YouTube channel in 2020 with hosts Ari Henning and Zack Courts in front of the camera and Spenser Robert behind the scenes calling the shots. Over the last three years, their adventures have stretched from the edge of the Alaskan Wilderness to a parking lot in Texas with race tracks, mini bike road trips, pizza delivery routes, and Christmas trees in between.
I made my CTXP debut, along with my fellow Common Tread teammates Patrick Garvin and Jen Dunstan, back in February when extra hands were needed to help punish, errr… “test” some beginner motorcycles in the Mojave desert. But that was very much a supporting role. I didn’t even get a dedicated trailer and make-up artist.
In early May, the team began pre-production on what would ultimately become the episode releasing this coming weekend. Planning for CTXP shoots run in tandem with all other production work our team is responsible for and thus require extended production planning that oftentimes overlaps not just other standard productions, like Daily Rider, The Shop Manual, Highside/Lowside, and Common Tread articles, but also other CTXP productions.
By early June, we had entered into talks with Triumph motorcycles about producing a video in August where we would ride two of their motorcycles deep into the wilds of the Himalayan Mountains in India. The only catch was, the bikes we wanted hadn’t been built yet. Oh yeah, and the final destination we had in mind was on the wrong side of an Indian military checkpoint near the Chinese border where foreigners weren’t exactly permitted, at least not without a chaperone.
If you’re doing the math, early June would provide the team a two-month window to plan the production. Sounds like ample time to plan a motorcycle trip, right? Hell, you’ve probably planned more with less! But here’s where we were by June 16, exactly 60 days before our intended departure date.
The team had secured no support on the ground in India, no hotels or flights had been booked, no visas obtained, and there was no confirmation of the proposed route. That was because we couldn’t proceed with those tasks until we had the bikes. And two months out, we had no motorcycles. On top of all of that, we learned that one key member of the team wouldn’t be able to make it.
For personal reasons stemming from a doorstep delivery by a giant stork (or at least that’s how I’m to understand Ari’s son’s arrival), Ari wasn’t going to be able to make the trip. With no better option, Zack was left to turn to his faithful Highside/Lowside co-host.
And to be clear ladies and gentlemen, this was no support role! This was a step into the limelight right next to Zack Courts himself on the CTXP stage. I couldn’t wait to see what my new production trailer would look like. (Spoiler alert: at one point during this shoot I was sleeping on a tiny mattress at the foot of Zack’s king-sized bed.)
While I was selflessly willing to step in and save the day, there was one small catch: My passport was set to expire in October.
At first, I didn’t see an issue. Why would I? We were planning to travel in August, two months before the expiration date. Well, as it turns out, most countries will not permit international travel on a passport that is set to expire within six months of your travel date. Who knew? (Probably someone, but not me.)
In an effort to keep from boring you to death with the details of International Passport regulations, here are the Cliffs Notes on what I learned about the American passport renewal process in the summer of 2023: It was a shitshow.
Both regular and expedited renewal timelines were measured in months. In-person, same-day, emergency renewals were available in select cities, but only within two weeks of a confirmed travel date, and the meetings were incredibly difficult to secure. So what did this mean for your hero? It meant spending a lot of money to book a non-refundable international flight on the gamble that he’d be able to secure a passport renewal meeting in a random city somewhere in America within 14 days of his flight.
Outside of my passport woes, Zack and Spenser were heading off other potential issues. Talking with a local guide, we were informed that the destination we intended to travel to was currently completely off-limits to foreigners. He let us know it was inadvisable for us to attempt our planned route, even with an Indian national escorting us. So we did what anyone receiving this news would do: We started looking for a more optimistic guide.
Finally, on July 13, we got a break in our luck. I received a text message from Adam VanderVeen, Triumph’s North American Marketing Director. He procured the bikes.
That news was followed up a week later by a positive response from our new guide in India. He assured us he would be able to navigate the Indian military checkpoints on our behalf and escort us to our intended location. It looked like it was all coming together.
We booked flights to India for August 16.
Just 14 days from the date of my flight, I spent an hour on hold with the federal passport hotline to be told the only options I had for an emergency renewal were Honolulu, Hawaii or Aurora, Colorado. While the passport office in Aurora might not have the glamor and sex appeal of Honolulu, flights were much more reasonable. I would fly to Aurora on Monday August 7 for an 8:30 a.m. meeting with passport officials on Tuesday morning, and then immediately fly back to Philadelphia.
As I was about to book a flight to Colorado I received a call from Spenser. He and Zack had started securing visas and carnets for the trip. During this process he learned that in order to apply for an Indian travel visa I needed the passport number I’d be traveling with. Long story short, my August 8 appointment wasn’t going to work.
Then my wife discovered that there was a third option to secure a passport in an emergency: Throw a ridiculous amount of money at the problem and hire a private company with ties to the State Department to expedite the issue for you. Turns out there was just such a company two hours away in downtown Manhattan.
While I was racking up miles driving back and forth between Philadelphia and New York City, Zack was dealt a blow of his own. His visa was denied. Without going into detail, it appeared that Zack’s sordid past as an unsavory character had finally caught up with him. He immediately started an appeal process insisting that the Indian government got the wrong Zack Courts.
By the morning of August 16, the date we were slated to fly out, I had secured a passport, but neither Zack nor I had visas.
Zack received word before me. Around 10:30 a.m., he received his visa. Mine arrived 30 minutes later. Within hours of our respective flights taking off, we were finally cleared for a two-week trip to India. Neither one of us had started packing.
The next few hours were a blur of luggage, good-byes, and last-minute checklists. This was followed by a nearly four-hour drive through a thunderstorm to a long-term parking lot outside of JFK airport, coupled with a delayed train, and a backed-up line at the security checkpoint. With a little help from the good folks at the TSA PreCheck line, I found myself with enough time for reflection on everything it took to put a beer in my hand at the international terminal of JFK.
Over the following 72 hours, I would endure a 16-hour flight to New Delhi, deal with aggressive Indian cab drivers, spend a night in a very sketchy airport hotel, and rendezvous with Zack and the team at a very authentic Indian Krispy Kreme before finally getting to throw a leg over the bikes we’d been waiting so long to ride: Triumph’s all-new Speed 400 and Scrambler 400X.
While getting to India was an adventure in its own right, our real journey with these two bikes was just about to begin. Make sure to tune in to RevZilla’s YouTube channel Saturday, November 11, to catch the full video of our exploits in India with these two all-new motorcycles.