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Leon Logothetis' trip around the world on the currency of kindness

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"Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see."

— Mark Twain

I just got home from a four-month-long around-the-world trip. When I left Los Angeles on my motorcycle on Aug. 10, I took almost nothing with me, except hope.

My pockets were empty. I had no money, nothing, really, to offer those I met along the way except my story and my gratitude for their kindness in providing me with food, shelter and money for gasoline.

My trip took me across the United States and to and through 19 countries, from the Hollywood sign to the plains of Nebraska, to the streets of Pittsburgh, to the shores of Lake Como, Italy, to the slums of India, to the ecstasy of Bhutan and into the rigors of Vietnam. I crossed two oceans and thousands of miles on sometimes terrible roads. I faced rejection, exhaustion and the constant challenge of making my way in a sometimes unfriendly world.

Now, 28,000 miles later, I have returned to Los Angeles, a much richer man than when I left.

It sounds crazy, I know. Maybe it was a little crazy. But amid that insanity, I found a world that is much saner than I expected, and I found myself much more centered because I was concentrating on connections with people, not accumulation of things.

I found my heart.

My yearning for a life on the road began after watching "The Motorcycle Diaries." Seeing the exploits of the young Che Guevara, who rode across South America relying on kindness, awakened my sense of adventure and desire for truth. I dreamed of doing the same thing one day.

That day arrived in 2013. My TV work had dried up. My writing gigs were nonexistent. My confidence shriveled. What better way to resolve this mini-crisis than by driving a vintage yellow motorcycle with a sidecar that I dubbed Kindness One around the world relying only on the kindness of strangers?

This wasn't a completely new concept. I had traveled across America on $5 a day and Paris to Moscow on 5 euros a day and created a TV show (and a book) called "Amazing Adventures of a Nobody" as the result of my experiences. I drove a vintage London taxi from Times Square to the Hollywood sign giving people free cab rides and managed to raise money for local charities and the St. Joseph school in Venice.

But traveling the world on kindness, carried by a 1978 Chang Jiang motorcycle with a BMW motor, was a monster undertaking. Under my rules, I didn't carry any money and I couldn't accept any. I had to rely on the goodness of humankind.

This is how I approached it: I would go up to people and explain what I was doing. I would tell them I needed a place to stay or some gas or a meal. Some people were not interested in helping, and sometimes the rejection was hard to take. But then I would encounter that person who was willing to reach out his hand and help me.

The guidelines I created for my journey meant I was able to connect with all kinds of people, many of whom I probably wouldn't have had a chance to encounter in my everyday life. Some of them didn't have the means to help but did anyway. Perhaps I should have turned down their help or reciprocated. But my experimental journey was about experiencing the kindness of strangers, so even when I felt as though I should have refused, I accepted and bathed in humanity's goodness.

All of the people who helped me touched me in one way or another, but two instances were life-altering.

In Pittsburgh on Day 8 of my journey, I was about at the end of my rope. The kindness I sought? Wasn't happening. That's when I encountered Tony. I asked whether I could stay with him, but before I realized he was homeless. He offered to let me stay the night with him in his little patch of home near a downtown park. He said he would feed me, give me warm clothes and share his blankets on the unusually cold and rainy midsummer night.

That's how I spent one of the best nights of my life: sleeping on the streets of Pittsburgh. Tony taught me that riches reside in our hearts, not in our wallets.

My second life-altering encounter was in India. In Lucknow, a city of about 4 million, I befriended a man who invited me to his village where he said I could sleep. It was far from any Starbucks or Wi-Fi hot spot. I don't think the people of this village had ever seen a balding white guy, but that didn't matter to them. It seemed as though the whole village turned out to welcome me. So gracious, it was almost ethereal, as unconditional love often is.

I watched the sun melt into the horizon with about 150 Indian villagers sitting close to me. Their love was predicated on nothing but their goodness. I needed food and shelter, and they expected nothing in return. That kind of simplicity was like a salve for a wounded heart.

The lessons of selflessness sneaked up on me in Colorado too. In the sleepy town of Delta, Colo., I met Chery and Willy, a wife and husband who were dedicated to helping others. Willy, a 62-year-old Scotsman, worked at a seniors' home. He connected me with Kay, a 96-year-old woman who told me that his dedication made her feel "like part of the human race again." Here was a man who had dedicated his life to the betterment of the less fortunate, the vulnerable, the forgotten of society.

Not surprisingly, Willy offered me a place to stay. Besides a roof over my head, he gave me valuable insight into the human condition: Rising above the drama of one's situation and living an outwardly focused life helps the giver live a more compassionate, richer life.

Perhaps that's the secret of the Bhutanese. They are kind. They are loving. They measure life by GNH — gross national happiness. It's not a slogan but a principle that encourages balancing economic, spiritual and environmental needs to achieve contentment for all, not just the few. I was only in Bhutan a few days but I can still summon the power of the country's collective kindness.

I never would have gotten there — or anywhere else — without one giant boost. In fact, my journey almost didn't happen. Driving from L.A. to New York was no cakewalk, but there's a large ocean between New York and Europe and as trusty as my motorcycle was, it wasn't up to swimming the Atlantic or, assuming I somehow made it, back across the Pacific. I began asking major shipping lines if they would transport my bike and me across the oceans. All said no. Then one said yes.

I never dreamed that a trip that was all about connecting with people might also be about connecting with a corporation. But it was. ZIM Integrated Shipping Services agreed to take the bike and me across the Atlantic and the Pacific free of charge. I made many a friend onboard the ship, and this experience taught me that kindness comes in all different shapes and sizes, even corporate ones.

On Dec. 17, I wheeled up to the Hollywood sign, the end of my journey. Along the way, I found some sorrow but great joy too, including being able to raise nearly $10,000 for Make-A-Wish International. Its work, it says, is to "grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy."

With that kind of kindness, the circle is complete. For now, anyway — until my heart calls again.

travel@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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