PAS­SION PLAY: A RIDER’S JOUR­NEY

Ar­dent rider Craig Smith re­flects on his jour­ney of mo­tor­cy­cling – a fer­vor that mo­ti­vates the itin­er­ant hote­lier to push his lim­its and to ex­plore unique cor­ners of the world.

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - Contents - STORY JOANNA LAM

mo­tor­cy­cling jour­ney

Some peo­ple ride mo­tor­cy­cles to im­press, some do it for the adren­a­line-pump­ing thrills. But for Craig Smith, he gets on the bike to tune out, “Dur­ing the ride I’m not the pres­i­dent and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional, Asia Pa­cific, I’m just a guy on a bike,” says the hospitality vet­eran who has been a de­voted mo­tor­cy­clist for decades.

As a kid, Smith’s in­ter­est in mo­tor­cy­cles sparked dur­ing his high school years back in Utah in Amer­ica. Fast for­ward sev­eral decades later, hav­ing left foot­prints in thir­teen coun­tries and spent nearly three decades in ho­tel group Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional, the glo­be­trot­ting ex­pat con­tin­ues to ex­plore dif­fer­ent cor­ners of the world on and off the mo­tor­cy­cle.

Cur­rently based in Hong Kong and over­see­ing more than 180 ho­tels and 50,000 em­ploy­ees in 15 coun­tries, Smith par­tic­u­larly cher­ishes his per­sonal time dur­ing the daily rides be­tween home and of­fice. “I can have a very stress­ful day at work and then I get on a mo­tor­cy­cle and I’m just re­laxed. It’s a great ex­pe­ri­ence. No­body can call me, it’s my own time,” he un­der­lines that rid­ing helps un­ravel his mind and al­lows him to en­gage with the world. “When you’re rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle, you smell ev­ery­thing and your senses are all alive – whether it is rain or shine.”

While Smith tends to ride solo around Hong Kong, he ex­plains his pas­sion for mo­tor­cy­cling stems from the ca­ma­raderie that rid­ers share. “Peo­ple who ride the mo­tor­cy­cles are like be­ing in an emo­tional club,” un­der­lines Smith. For many rid­ers, mo­tor­cy­cling goes be­yond just be­ing on the bike, the ac­tiv­ity is in­ter­twined with an un­spo­ken bond­ing among rid­ers. “In the States, 70 per­cent of mo­tor­cy­clists on the road would al­ways do an up­side-down peace sign when an­other mo­tor­cy­cle rode past. It’s like a form of broth­er­hood.”

The well-trav­elled hote­lier has ven­tured to var­i­ous ex­otic realms of the world with his trusted Du­catis. "The best thing is when you’re out in na­ture, and you get to see things that you only see on TV," says Smith. “Dur­ing my bik­ing trip in Dubai, a lo­cal mo­tor­cy­cling cham­pion took me out on a tour. We came across this dune which was 20 feet up and as soon as I got to the top and looked down I re­alised that the other side was 75 feet down! I didn’t know the front and back of the dune is not evenly matched, and even­tu­ally the mo­tor­cy­cle went down and I laid on the sand.” The mo­tor­cy­cling cham­pion came over and said “Never ride over a dune un­less you can see the other side. You need to ex­pe­ri­ence this in or­der to re­mem­ber for the rest of your life.”

Many fac­tors drive mo­tor­cy­clists. For Smith, one of them is that these ma­chines can strike up con­ver­sa­tions among strangers and bring peo­ple to­gether. “On our last day in our bik­ing trip in Cam­bo­dia, my friend and I wanted a photo in front of the tem­ples with our mo­tor­cy­cles. But as we pulled in, there was a po­lice­man there who de­nied our ac­cess. We re­alised that in or­der to en­ter, we needed to be part of the Ger­man ar­chae­ol­ogy team who was work­ing at the site. So my friend, who is Ger­man, said he is part of the team and the po­lice­man bought it. We drove up and parked our mo­tor­cy­cles right in front of the tem­ples, and that’s when the Ger­man ar­chae­ol­ogy team showed up. Even­tu­ally ev­ery­one burst into laugh­ter and we all took pho­tos to­gether,” Smith says.

When asked about the unforgettable mo­ments of his rid­ing life, Smith re­calls his nerve-wreck­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Mex­ico two years ago. “It was get­ting late and we drove to this cliff when the leader said “Here’s the strat­egy – you’re go­ing to point your mo­tor­cy­cle down and hold the back break as hard as you can and the grav­ity will take your mo­tor­cy­cle down the hill.” Partly out of peer pres­sure, partly out of his own na­ture of com­pet­i­tive­ness, Smith even­tu­ally de­cided to give it a go and made it out alive.

The pen­chant for mo­tor­cy­cling cer­tainly runs in the Smith fam­ily. With all of his sons be­ing ar­dent rid­ers, the Smith boys of­ten em­bark on “Dad-andLad” trips to­gether, go­ing for off-road bike trips to the moun­tains or dis­tant beaches. “I al­ways tell my friends to teach your chil­dren sports that you want to do,” laughs Smith, who is look­ing for­ward to his up­com­ing bik­ing trip with his younger son in the Grand Canyon later this month.

To Smith, fam­ily trips don’t ex­ist out of mun­dane ne­ces­sity, in­stead they strengthen fam­ily ties. “A friend of mine once told me that one of the things that your kids will re­mem­ber in their lives are their fam­ily va­ca­tions, so make sure you don’t cheat them on these.”

“In fact, my daugh­ter told me that one of the best con­ver­sa­tions we had was when we went on a div­ing trip to­gether,” Smith re­calls with a smile. “In my fa­ther’s gen­er­a­tion, bond­ing means hav­ing a proper talk on the couch at home. But for my kids, bond­ing means do­ing some­thing mem­o­rable to­gether.”

“The mil­len­ni­als are trav­el­ling much more now than we were at your age,” points out the sea­soned hote­lier. “Trav­el­ling used to mean ly­ing on the beach or vis­it­ing mu­se­ums. But to­day peo­ple are look­ing be­yond these stan­dard itin­er­ar­ies and yearn for au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ences that of­ten in­volve sports and in­ter­est­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.”

Al­ways in the quest for chal­leng­ing off-track routes against stun­ning nat­u­ral back­drops, Smith has drawn up a bucket list of po­ten­tial bik­ing trips. “There’s a race called the Baja 1000, an off-road race that takes place on the sand and moun­tains in Mex­ico’s Baja Cal­i­for­nia Penin­sula. It’s a race that wel­comes both pro­fes­sion­als and no­bod­ies. So every­body can sign up and the win­ner will get US$5,000 – that’s it! It’s all about pride.”

“DUR­ING THE RIDE I’M NOT THE PRES­I­DENT AND MAN­AG­ING DI­REC­TOR OF MAR­RIOTT IN­TER­NA­TIONAL, ASIA PA­CIFIC, I’M JUST A GUY ON A BIKE.”

–Craig Smith, Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional

RIGHT Smith en­joys ex­plor­ing the world with his sons on their trusted Du­catis.

ABOVE Smith [far left] with fam­ily in their an­nual Mex­ico bik­ing trip.

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