I'll be honest. The inception of this episode was pretty much a knee-jerk reaction to potentially making some cash.
Royal Enfield's marketing agency had contacted me and asked if I would be interested in creating a video as part of an installation for an event they were holding in Delhi, India. They had offered to pay me for my time and were happy for me to choose the subject matter, but needed the video ready in about a month's time.
Immediately I put the word out for any Enfield riders that were willing to feature in an episode. I had a couple of Enfield owners approach me, willing to be involved, but unfortunately didn't have the right flavour of story I usually gravitate toward. Shortly after, however, one after the other, people started mentioning this guy riding from Sydney to London on a '69 Enfield Bullet 350.
"You should really have a chat with Jono", was what they all said. "You'd better hurry, though! He's going to be leaving any day now."
It seemed like a no-brainer. Sydney to London on a 45 year old bike? Surely the Enfield marketing agency would go for it.
I quickly got in touch with Jonathan and, over the next couple of days, got filled in on his plans and reasons for doing the trip. All of which were fascinating for me. His story about his travels around South America with his friend Gabriel and how they got there on their back of their eternally positive "the answer is always yes" inside-joke always brought a smile to my face.
I asked him if he'd be willing to feature in an episode and, because it would help him raise awareness of the charity he was riding for, Beyond Blue (the Australian organisation for support of anxiety and depression), he said yes.
I then pitched the Jonathan's story back to the Enfield agency, along with the idea of potentially continuing his story beyond the intial episode, whereby Jonathan would send back footage of his travels back to me to edit. They loved the idea and said they'd get back to me shortly with confirmation from Enfield. Hopefully they could also provide some support for Jonathan.
A week before Jonathan was to roll out of Sydney with an entourage of riders to see him off, we recorded his interview. At this point, as you can see in the finished episode, he's fairly relaxed, despite the huge amount of work he still needed to do. The bike still wasn't running, visas for a few of the many countries he would be crossing into were still pending and he was working every night in a small bar to earn as much cash as possible for the trip. I hate deadlines at the best of times so I was certainly feeling nervous for Jono.
Weeks after I had pitched to them, I still hadn't heard anything firm from the Enfield marketing agency apart from some vague emails about "confirming plans with the client" and "working to synchronise the activity across other channels". I reiterated that I had already committed to early filming and hoped to hear back with something more solid soon.
The day finally came for the big ride-out from Deus Ex Machina in Sydney, over the harbour bridge. I stupidly had got my times mixed up and I arrived late, holding everything up for Jono's wave-off. I got the cameras all set-up on the back of the car to shoot Jonathan and the twenty or so riders following him over the Harbour Bridge. Jonathan and all the other riders were lined up behind the car. I hit record on the rear mounted camera and hopped in as Jonathan kick-started the 45 year old Enfield he'd been toiling over for the past week.
But it didn't start. After 15 minutes or so of kicking and oil spurting from the sides of the sump, it still didn't start. And then it started to rain. Then, one-by-one, the riders who had come to support Jonathan on his way out of Sydney walked up to him and quietly wished him all the best before pardoning themselves to the dry of home or a nearby bar.
Jonathan tried to kick a few more times before giving up. Hot and stressed he was clearly disappointed with what had happened. I really felt for the guy. He'd been up all night, packing and working on the bike and now the exhaustion started to show.
While waiting to see the Bullet away to a workshop on the back of a pick-up truck , Jonathan, a handful of his friends and I retreated into the Deus Cafe for some coffee and a bite to eat. We tried out best to console Jonathan, but I could tell he wanted to be anywhere but there.
A few days later, after the bike had been repaired enough to ride and Jonathan had caught up on some sleep, we met up again to record his sneaking out of Sydney alone. He seemed a lot more upbeat and once we were safely over the Harbour bridge we farewelled each other.
I'd not heard anything further from the Enfield marketing agency and was getting worried. Would they go with it? Wouldn't they? Optimistic, I emailed them news of current progress and I decided to continue with the project with the hope they would commit to picking up the episode later.
Jonathan would then head up to his hometown in Brisbane, where I'd would meet him a couple of weeks later at his family home for some additional shooting. My brother, Tristan, who lives there, picked me up from the airport. We grabbed a quick coffee over at Ellaspede, who are supporting Jonathan on his ride. I had to then drop Tristan back at the airport for his own flight to Cairns. So I had Tris' car to use for my time in Brisbane.
The drive out to Jono's parent's home the next morning was beautiful. It was a gorgeous day and I just hoped that his bike was running so that I could get all the shots I needed in one hit.
I needn't have worried. For the first time since I'd laid eyes on it, it was purring like a confident kitten. After meeting the Jonathan's Dad, Trevor and his Grandfather, Herman that I had heard so much about we finally got to shooting the gorgeous country roads around Bunya.
I had a great time watching the Gibson men chatter over their historic family motorcycling photos. The time spent with Trevor and Jono also gave me some more insight into their family tragedy and I could see that, even though there were smiles, it was a loss that was still just beneath the surface. Not fresh, but far from being painless. When we first met, I was still recovering from the death of my Mum, so I wasn't yet emotionally really to talk too deeply about death again. But later, Jono would tell me over the phone just before he left Darwin, that the most recent suicide was his sister's partner, to whom he was very close.
At the end of the day, as night fell on Brisbane and as Jono graciously gave me a lift back to the airport, I quietly felt ashamed. I felt ashamed at the fact that I had, only considered doing this episode on Jonathan for money.
Here was a man who had been humbled by the suicide of two people very close to him. And, because of this heartbraking loss, he was about to embark on an incredible journey of his discovery of the world, it's people and most importantly, himself. He has a goal of not only getting to London, but to also learn more about male depression and why we shy from talking about it.
The sheer determination he'd shown in just getting to this point with a very temperamental bike, minimal resources and seemingly endless reserves of energy had me realising that I'd discovered my admiration for Jono.
Shortly after I got home. I found an email from the Enfield agency. They respectfully apologised and said that Enfield's plans had changed and no longer required my involvement.
At that point, it didn't matter. Regardless of whether or not I might have made a buck from this episode. I shouldn't have concerned myself with what might have been. I should have just said yes to Jonathan's story from the first moment we spoke.
I should have always said yes.
Follow Jonathan at www.theanswerisalwaysyes.co
And please consider donating to his efforts to raise money for Beyond Blue, an Australian charity organisation raising awareness of depression and anxiety and combating their associated stigmatism.