Where in the world?: Tupelo resident Colin Maloney is a globe-trotting adventurer

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There’s a map of the world on the back wall of Colin Maloney’s office, roughly 5 feet tall and a few feet wider than that. To it, Maloney has pinned mementos of his journeys around the globe, bits of currency and brochures and photographs spread across the surface of the earth. Each keepsake is a reminder of a place he’s visited … an adventure he’s undertaken.

There have been so many: Argentina and Peru. Costa Rica and Morocco. Canada. Cuba. Spain. Vietnam.

The room is filled with relics. As the 58-year-old Tupeloan tells his stories, he consults them — pulls a photo from the wall or nods toward a brochure or motions to some item in the corner. He speaks of his adventures in no particular order, just as they come to him, his memory sparked by a question or word or another story. They flow together, one after another.

“It’s all about the adventure, you know,” he says of one his trips to the Baja 1000, a hundreds-mile-long off-road motorsports race through the sands of Mexico. He’s participated eight times, the first in 2003. That first year, he rode a Kawasaki Brute Force, a massive four-wheeler designed to tackle just such terrain. As long as the rider can do the same, of course.

Organizers open the trail up to a pre-run two weeks before the actual race. Most years Maloney’s tackled the Baja 1000, that’s what he’s run. He’s run the actual race twice, but didn’t finish either time. In both, his bike broke down.

One year, he and his friends journeyed through Copper Canyon, Mexico, a massive, 25,000-mile range of canyons that together dwarf the scale of the Grand Canyon (which he’s also hiked). They were on bikes for 10 days. The entire trip took about 14.

“It’s so remote and so hard to get to, that some of the cities down there … are like a step back in time,” he says of the adventure.

The canyon is home to the Tarahumara, a group of indigenous people known for their long-distance running abilities. They are often called “The Running People.”

“And they really do run everywhere,” Maloney says.

Maloney almost always travels with friends, in groups of seven or eight. Most of their adventures are on two wheels (sometimes four; occasionally none, if it’s a water-based adventure). They’ll often fly to where they’re going. If they’re planning to bike through Mexico or somewhere else that isn’t overseas, they’ll send the bikes via trailer, then meet up with the truck.

Traveling in groups is not only safer, it’s a way to build camaraderie.

“I know them, they know me,” he says of his fellow adventurers. “There’s one guy in the group — he packs everything down to the sewing needle. If you need it, he’s got it. So everybody has what they do best. When you travel with a group like that, it makes the challenges a whole lot easier to handle.”

Sometimes, that support is tangible — like when Maloney’s bike broke down in Mexico, and one of his fellow travelers had to tow him for a day. Other times, it’s more about encouragement.

On one of the Baja trips, one of Maloney’s fellow travelers, weary from the sun, heavy sand and the physical toll the journey had taken on him,  he didn’t know how much further he’d be able to go.

“We were sitting there in the sand, watching this little ant try to push a grain of sand up a hill,” Maloney says. “I said, ‘See that little ant right there? He’s going to make it up that hill. That’s just like us. We’re going to make it out of this desert.’ He laughed. We got back on our bikes, and we took off.”

On a trip across Argentina, one member of the group got food poisoning. Again, there was nothing to do but to push through it.

“Southern Argentina is just a vast nothingness,” Maloney says. “It’s not like you can just stop; there is nowhere to stop … You could drive 200 miles, and there’s a gas station, hotel and hardware store. You’d drive another 200 miles, and there’d be another one. There’s just nothing down there.”

When asked where they sleep on these adventures, Maloney shrugs.

“There are places,” he says. “They aren’t the Holiday Inn Express, but there are places.”

Occasionally, they’ve spent the night in a local’s house.

“Usually, the people are really nice,” he says. “People really are.”

But not always.

“I saw a guy get shot in Guatemala,” he says, almost casually, while describing some of his more harrowing journeys.

The tire on his bike had just blown out, so he and his traveling group were on the roadside.

“It’s a four-lane road,” he says. “These guys pull up to a Bob Truck — the guy had pulled off — and they start firing. They drug him out of the truck. And we’re sitting on the side of the street.”

It’s a memory burned into his mind.

“I’ll never forget, the guy had that gun, and he turned and saw us,” he says. “We headed off down the ditch.”

They took the truck and the driver and took off.

“They wanted the truck,” Maloney says. “They weren’t necessarily interested in us. But we didn’t need to be in their business.”

When in dangerous situations, and Maloney’s been in a few, he says it’s important to stay calm, pay attention, and react appropriately.

“Once you’re in it, you’re there,” he says. “You can’t call Mama. Nobody’s going to come get you.”

But Maloney says he’s observant, and that’s the key to both staying safe and having stories to tell upon a safe return home. No matter where he travels, Maloney has seen beauty and ugliness, good and bad.

The former, he says, far outweighs the latter.

“In all the places I’ve traveled, I can tell you, people are mostly good,” he says.

Reminiscing in a room full of relics, Maloney says he’s always eager to begin the next journey, to see where his sense of adventure will carry him next. He’s planning a two-wheel ride up to Anchorage, Alaska, in the coming months. And next year, he plans to tackle the Great Loop, a 6,000-mile circle around the eastern third of the United States and Canada via a system of natural and man-made waterways, including the Tennessee-Tombigbee.

He’s also planning a trip to Burning Man — the annual art festival in the desolate wilds of the Nevada desert. He’s been twice already.

“It certainly gives you something to talk about,” he says when asked about how travel has changed him — how it’s made him who he is.

“It’s not about the trip itself,” he says. “It’s about getting back and reliving the adventure. All the things that happened.”

He grins, then says, “They make great stories.”

And no matter how many trips he takes, there are always more places to see, and more stories for Colin Maloney to tell.

Photos by Adam Robison