Interview: Barging Through Asia

Written by: Macca Sherifi

An Interview with Tanner Ballengee of The Harsh Barge

You probably don’t know anything about The Harsh Barge, and the names of Tanner Ballengee and Conner Morton will most likely mean nothing to you. That’s why we thought you’d like this lil’ interview, because let us assure you that these two bargers are a couple of travelling heroes.

The Harsh Barge is their blog, and they describe themselves as ‘some haggard farang dudes barging through Asia on motorcycles’.

Biking from Indonesia overland to India, they’ve certainly had an experience or two. Throw into the mix their own unique 10 commandments, two of which particularly stand out – never paying to sleep anywhere and never washing their clothes – then it’s safe to say that they’ve had a gap year like no other.

We thought we’d pick their brains to see exactly what they got up to on their trip…

Barging Through Asia

How many countries have you travelled to?

I have been to five. During the Harsh Barge we travelled through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, India and Nepal, but before I met up with my travel companion, Conner, he had already been “barging” through Indonesia, Malaysia, and Burma.

What’s your favourite and why?

My favourite was probably Thailand. Great food, nice people, good weather. I was just really more comfortable in Thailand and it probably helped that Conner spoke decent Thai. Vietnam was a close second though. The beer there was really cheap and the people we encountered were almost always drinking. We partied with some random prawn farmers one night and they were just handing us beer after beer, then we slept on the beach. It was great.

What’s been the most inspiring?

India. Everything about India was so drastic. We could go from poverty to palaces in just a hundred kilometres. And riding through Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, and the Himalayas was probably the gnarliest thing I’ve ever done. After experiencing all that, everything seems less challenging. It was incredible.

Thou shall not pay for accommodation

What’s the name The Harsh Barge all about? Any story behind that or just a random name?

The name stems from a couple different resources. The word “barge” is a quasi-slang word that my friends and I use back home, basically meaning “to do something without entirely thinking about / caring about the consequences, asking for permission, or being prepared.” I think the term got popular within the skateboarding community and we started using it.

The term “Harsh Barge” was, again, first used in the skateboarding world, then it was adopted as a name for a song by Conner’s old metal band that he used to play bass for. After we decided to make our blog for our trip, the name “Harsh Barge” was one of the first to come to our heads. I couldn’t have been more perfect.

Who came up with the 10 commandments? And did you truly stick to them? Did you?

We kind of came up with it collectively as we went along. It was mostly Conner’s idea I believe. It just started with the first one, which was the most important, “never pay to sleep.” It was the rule that defined the whole trip.

Where was the worse place you roughed it? Did it ever get unbearable?

Three places come to mind.

  1. Outside Rudrapur (I think) in India, on someone’s porch. I was eaten alive by mosquitos and to avoid being bitten I had to keep all my clothes on and be inside my sleeping bag. So I was itchy and sweaty the entire night. And someone went through Conner’s bag and stole a bunch of money.
  2. On the side of Rohtang Pass in the Himalayas. Google it, and that still won’t do it justice. At least 24 hours of pure suck on that mountain. Two soaking wet dudes in a one-man tent. It was cold too.
  3. A little place called Pang in Ladakh. There wasn’t any civilization for hundreds of kilometres. The elevation was something crazy high and it was hard to breathe – not to mention our bikes were fucking up and wouldn’t run right. Had to double up in the tent again, but had so many borrowed blankets inside that we couldn’t even move. I felt like I was suffocating the whole night.

Thou shall not wash thy clothes

Have you met anyone on the road that you’ve thought “yep, you’re totally awesome. I love what you’re doing…”?

We stayed with a girl in Nha Trang, Vietnam, who we both thought was really rad. She was full of stories: saving a baby monkey, almost dying of some crazy disease from said baby monkey, living on the beach in France, hating life in Mongolia, etc. She was pretty awesome.

Did you ever surf at someone’s and they were like “what the fuck do you guys look like?” or did people get it?

Yeah, Conner tended to get a lot of shit for his jeans, which were full of holes and filthy. Mine were black so dirt didn’t show was well. But we tried to wear our “cleanest” shirts when staying with someone, so we wouldn’t freak them out. But most of the time people understood, that we were on the road all day, and the road is pretty dirty.

What did you do with the bikes once you finished with them?

Tried to sell them. When we crossed into Thailand with our Vietnamese bikes, the border people got all sketched out and we had to fill out all this paper work, that we later realized said that if we didn’t take the bikes back out of Thailand within 30 days, we’d be fined $3,000 or more. So we rode back to Cambodia, where they apparently didn’t give a shit, and sold the bikes to a shop for $400 together then took a bus back to Bangkok to catch a flight to India.

Some of the views on their journey

How long did the trip take in total?

For me it was a bit over three months. For Conner, it was five months, I think. He was barging before I got to Asia, and he was still in India when I left.

How much to do think it cost (all in)?

If you include air fare to and from the United States, which is about $1,000 either way, then I would say about $5,500. Maybe a little less. I came back almost broke, but I would say that’s pretty good considering all that we did, saw, and purchased.

You only paid $0.50 a litre of water. That’s pretty good going. Any tips for haggling with locals?

Tell them that you know what the right price is, or just walk away. A lot of times if you show that you are firm with a price, they will panic when you start to walk away and offer you something lower. But you also don’t want to cheat them in the deal either. Just find out what a normal price is and stick to that.

What would you say to anyone looking to take a similar adventure as yours?

Just barge it and have fun. It might suck at times but you won’t regret it.

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