David Barr has prosthetic legs, but he’s ridden his 1972 Harley Shovelhead, wide-guide Harley-Davidson more than 83,000 miles.
Between September 1990 and May 1994, he went for it, riding from Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America to the Arctic Circle, from Baltimore to Prudhoe Bay, across Australia, Europe, Russia, Vietnam, and China and of course, across Africa. In effect, he has circled the globe from north to south and east to west.
He has braved every environment, riding atop icy rivers and lakes and barreling across ancient roads in the shimmering expanses of the Gobi Desert, where the wind causes building-high dunes to sing.
“I made a motorcycle journey around the world, across all six continents by road or dirt track, some 83,000, hard-ridden miles,” Barr told the Beacon.
Barr rode all those miles exposed to the elements, braving sub-zero temperatures, high winds, boiling heat, stifling humidity and of course, rain, snow, sleet, and thunder and lightning.
“I’m in the Guinness Book of Records,” Barr told the Beacon. “I rode my Harley across northern Europe to Russia and on to the Arctic in an unbroken line.” The publishers rejected his first attempt on a rule infraction, so Barr got on his bike and succeeded the second time.
The American Motorcycle Association inducted Barr into its Hall of Fame in 2000.
“Barr has written books, produced documentaries, earned two Guinness World Records, and established a foundation to support a charity that assists disabled people,” the AMA notes on its website.
And Barr accomplished all these incredible things long after a landmine exploded under his unarmored vehicle and took his legs.
Joining the U.S. Marines when he was 17, the California native served as a crew chief and right door helicopter gunner in Vietnam. After his tour ended he came home, but left again to fight for foreign governments, including Israel, Rhodesia, and South Africa.
“While I was a sergeant in the South African Parachute Brigade in 1981, we were riding in what was a firing platform for twin Brownings,” Barr said. “We rode over an anti-tank mine that was meant for a heavy tank, not the light vehicle we were in,” Barr said.
It is an understatement to say the mine — which had been set by South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) guerrillas — changed his life. He emerged burnt and broken, but survived after 20 surgeries, including the amputation of one leg below the knee, the other just above the knee.
He believes the mine was meant for him because it was outfitted with a clicker that let other vehicles pass over it first. That selectivity indicates to him that his survival is a sign that God had other plans for him.
Those who would like to meet Barr and ask him about his adventures on the road (he crossed the Namibian Desert twice) will be in Safety Harbor on Saturday, Sept. 7, at the Safety Harbor-Patriot Express Honor Ride & Party.
“This is my fifth year at Safety Harbor-Patriot Express Honor Ride & Party,” said Barr, who said he found that raising money for other injured vets might be just what God had in mind. In that role, Barr does what he can to raise money for other military veterans who need a hand up.
“When our service men and women return from duty, emotionally or physically damaged, we aid the families, spouse, and the children,” Barr said, stating the Patriot Express Foundation’s mission statement. “Our military may sacrifice for our freedom, but so do their loved ones who are left here, hoping, and picking up the pieces of war.”
The foundation, locally supported by Garry W. Dodd, president of Precision Services Inc. in Safety Harbor, was founded in 1996. Patriot Express is actually a series of motorcycle-related events and fundraisers held throughout the United Sates. Money raised at the events helps those with post-traumatic stress, suicide, high divorce rates, debilitating injuries, and other problems veterans face. The donations pay for support and counseling to the families of injured veterans, including the troops who return from duty with long-term medical needs.
“Too often veterans shoot themselves or get addicted to drugs, because they feel life gives them a curveball,” Dodd said. “Dave does this to let them know you can still participate and do anything you want to do if you follow your dreams.”
“No one in the organizations is paid,” Barr said. “We have paid out some $5.5 million in charity to veterans in recent years. It goes for rent, school supplies, whatever you can think of a family might need.”
“When I rode in the Arctic, temperatures were in the minus-40 degrees and I had to start my motorcycle with a blowtorch,” Barr said with a laugh. “My good friends in Florida can certainly ride with me for a day in the sun.”
Edward (Skip) Martin, owner of Precision Prosthetics of Memphis, is the man who adjusts and tunes Barr’s prosthetic legs. The good doctor lost his foot in 1971 when he crashed his Honda motorcycle on the way to high school.
He had planned to sign up for Vietnam, but the accident closed that door but opened another.
“He and I bought that Honda 350 together and I ran to the hospital as soon as I heard he had crashed,” said Dodd, who grew up with Martin in Memphis. “Another driver pulled out in front of him; the settlement he received from the accident paid for his degree in prosthetics from Northwestern University in 1973.
Martin also rides in poker runs and other fundraising drives. He continues to help many injured military veterans of the Gulf War and Afghanistan.
“I just tell all of them, you’re not disabled, you’re differently abled,” he said. “It’s very rewarding, I’ve been doing prosthetics for 46 years. I will be there in Safety Harbor to ride in the poker run.”
Patriot Express registration is 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7, at VFW Post 10093, 965 Harbor Lake Court.
“We’ll have a breakfast and then kickstands are up at 11:30 a.m. for the poker run,” Dodd said. “We’ll do one big loop starting at the Harbor Bar in Safety Harbor, driving through Pinellas County and up to Hudson; it’s a 100-mile ride ending back in Safety Harbor.”
Bikers collect a playing card at each stop; at the end of the run, the best hand wins. For those who want to forego the poker run, arrive on Main Street in Safety Harbor for the street party, which will last until 11:30 p.m.
The street party includes live bands, food, silent auction, and 50/50 raffle so others can raise a lot of money for veteran causes that day.
“One of the bars will also try for the Guinness Book of Records by building a 200-gallon Bloody Mary,” Dodd said.