When Henry Crew pulls on his leather jacket, fires up his motorbike and drives off on the open road, it marks a turning point for his mental health. “The freedom is a massive thing,” he explains. “Sometimes if you’re feeling really trapped in a situation and all your options are running out, you can escape for a while.”
At the start of April, Henry embarked on an ambitious attempt to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the world on a motorbike. The 22-year-old is currently two months in to a 35,000-mile trip, which will see him ride through 35 countries and over six continents, all in the name of men’s health.
For Henry, who is from Petersfield, Hampshire, the mission is so much more than an opportunity to break a Guinness World Record. “I have two motivations,” he explains during a phone interview with HuffPost while he was stopping over in Kazakhstan. “The first is my pure love of motorbikes. When I had my own issues with depression and anxiety, motorbikes really helped me cope with that.” His second motivation is his friends, three of whom he tragically lost to suicide - the single biggest killer of men aged 45 and under in the UK.
Henry hopes to raise £35,000 (£1 for every mile) for the Movember Foundation, which will go towards research and support programs for men’s mental health, suicide prevention, prostate and testicular cancer.
He set off from Shoreditch, London, on 3 April 2018. When we speak, the trip has taken him 5,500 miles through France, Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan in less than a month. To break the world record, he will need to return to the UK by 10 May 2019.
The graphic designer saved up money and then quit his job to embark on the trip, which he estimates will take 13 months in total. There have been a few challenges along the way: his motorbike boots fell off the back of his bike when he went over a pothole, so he’s had to order new ones. Plus, when he arrived in Kazakhstan, the clutch on his Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled burnt out and he had to have it fixed. But all in all, it’s gone relatively well so far.
The 22-year-old had just spent five days riding through a windy dessert where he says he didn’t see the sun for three days as he was surrounded by sand fog. “It’s nice to be in a place that’s green,” he laughs.
All in all, he’s been spending roughly six to eight hours a day on his bike, although this does vary, sometimes he’ll only ride for a couple of hours. “I have to take regular breaks and stop every couple of hundred miles as the petrol tank isn’t that big,” he adds. “There have been some long days so far.”
You’d think spending the equivalent of a working day on a motorbike would be isolating, but Henry insists it isn’t. “I’m just so absorbed in riding and paying attention so I’m not running into any camels,” he says. “I’m really focused but at the same time completely withdrawn. I don’t think about being alone when I’m on my bike - it’s only in the evenings really.”
He’s been staying with locals and British expats living in Europe which he says has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of his trip, and something that has helped keep the loneliness at bay. “They reached out to me on social media,” he explains. “It’s nice to be able to sit down and chat with people in the evening rather than setting up camp or clocking into a hotel.”
Henry, who has been riding motorbikes since he was 19, tends to set off on his travels between 8-9am and arrive at his next accommodation for 7-8pm. In some of the Soviet countries he’s travelled through he found language to be a bit of an issue - especially at border control. But Google translate has been his saviour. “You can just about manage to get the point across and sort stuff out,” he adds.
The trip so far has been “a really surreal experience” - he will spend August in Australia and then hopes to be in New York for Christmas. He misses his family and friends, but adds that FaceTime makes life easier (although he’s pretty gutted he can’t FaceTime his dogs). “Leaving home the night before, it was really strange to think I was not going to be back in my house until I’ve gone the whole way around the world,” he muses.
While he travels around the world, doing the thing he loves, he will raise tens of thousands of pounds for men’s mental and physical health. He has been blogging and sharing photos of his progress, and says it’s been “really rewarding” to hear from other people who said motorbikes helped them with their own mental health struggles.
Movember’s CEO Owen Sharp said he’s “incredibly honoured” that Henry is taking on the challenge for them. “In the UK, on average, 12 men a day lose their lives to suicide,” he said. “That is unacceptable. Henry’s challenge will raise much needed funds to help us stop men dying too young.”