A while back, I got really into the Silk Road and started wondering, “How can I experience this legendary route to the fullest?” That curiosity turned into an amazing trip.

We kicked things off in Istanbul, Turkey. Talk about timing—we arrived right before Ramadan started. The night before the fasting began, there was a huge feast outside the Sophia Mosque. Everywhere I looked, people were enjoying great food and experiencing so much joy.

It was an incredible introduction to Islam and the Muslim culture, right at the start of our Silk Road journey.

From there, we headed to Georgia, took a little detour to Armenia, and then moved on to Azerbaijan. Iran was next, but we had to ditch our motorcycles and fly in and out instead. After, we crossed the Caspian Sea to get to Turkmenistan, then traveled down near the Afghanistan border, through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kurdistan, all the way to Xi’An, China.

Every place had its own unique flavor—different people, different scenes, and different stories.

It was like stepping into a new world at each stop. This trip wasn’t just about traveling; it was about immersing myself in the mix of cultures and people that make up the Silk Road’s history.

Something wild happened in Tajikistan, close to the Afghanistan border. We were staying about 300 yards from the border crossing when a hotel clerk warned us not to cross into Afghanistan because there was a bounty on Americans. At first, we kind of laughed it off, but then it hit us how serious this was. Our group wasn’t big, and only a few of us were Americans, but we decided it wasn’t worth the risk.

It was crazy to think I was so close to being in real danger, just because of the passport I hold. It was a wake-up call.

Traveling in some of these more out-of-the-way places can be tough. It’s not like cruising on a super-highway. Take Kazakhstan, for example. We stayed in cabins with windows that were either cracked or totally missing. That night, temperatures dropped to around 25°F. There was no heating, and by morning, everything was covered in snow. The ground turned into a slushy, muddy mess. Our bikes were buried in snow, too.

And of all times, this had to happen when we were on a tight schedule and had to push through some of the worst riding conditions you can imagine.

Going into China was an interesting story because it took a couple of days to get past the border. The paperwork and interviews made it extremely challenging but then they asked for our phones. I decided this was going to be a problem for me. I kept telling them I was not going to give them my phone, so they took me to another room and separated me from the group.  They scrutinized all my official documents and decided they did not like my visa, which stated I was on a business trip—not a vacation. They then brought an English-speaking supervisor in and once he understood my business was making French fries for McDonald’s, we became good buddies.

At that point we were backslapping, and he even wanted a photo—and I never had to give up my phone.

After we finally made it into China, we went into the Uyghur Muslim area. The Uyghur people are being repressed in the reeducation centers. We even got the chance to see one of those reeducation centers.

We also saw where mosques had been destroyed in Western China. In fact, while we were there, the New York Times was doing an expose on the persecution the Uyghur Muslims were experiencing in China.

It was an eye-opening experience I will never forget.

The Silk Road experience made its mark on me forever.

I feel so privileged to have been able to experience the amazing beauty, ancient history, beautiful people, and even the hardships of this journey.