In a new travel show titled The Open Road, two Arab women battle against the elements and face their biggest fears as they travel through the Middle East on a pair of Harley Davidsons.
For three weeks, Pamela Nabhan and Chantal Asaad took their motorcycles from the UAE to Lebanon to Jordan and back, discovering breathtaking panoramas and experiencing death-defying adventures along the way.
Their life-changing journey, which began at Cafe Rider in Dubai and ended in Sharjah, marks the first Fox Original Production to come out of the region, and premieres on October 13.
Based in the UAE, Asaad had previously visited both Lebanon and Jordan. But on a bike, she said, it was a whole different experience. They interacted with “children, mothers, fathers, grandparents — anybody and everybody.”
“In a car, nobody talks to you. On a bike, people approach you. You can’t experience any place properly without a bike,” she said.
Againts all odds
Asaad is Emirati on her father’s side, with roots in Palestine and a Canadian upbringing, while Nabhan hails from Beirut, Lebanon.
The two were acquaintances before the show, but had never ridden together. Hitting the road and enduring tough circumstances side-by-side changed the course of their friendship.
“We became really close. We shared lots of beautiful adventures, lots of experiences, and at the same time, lots of fear and challenges,” said Nabhan.
Their journey transported them from the jagged terrains of Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah to the vast valley of Wadi Rum east of Aqaba.
Clad in their leather jackets (to protect against road rash in case they fall), they came up against 40-degree weather in the UAE, mild cold in Lebanon, and rainy conditions and a sandstorm in Jordan.
But the longest stretch of road was from Amman to Petra. Without a production crew, the ride would have taken four to five hours. With an episode to shoot, it took the women eight hours to complete. When they went to bed, Asaad could still hear the roar of the road in her ears.
“After a trip like that, your whole body is still shaking because of the adrenalin,” she said.
When Nabhan received the itinerary for The Open Road “four or five months ago”, she was fully on board with the idea of cross-country riding and cuisine hopping, but terrified of extreme sports.
“I don’t like heights. I love riding, I love speed, I love adrenalin, I love exploring new things — but on the ground. My biggest fear was paragliding,” she said.
Meanwhile, Asaad thrilled at the opportunity to zipline and paraglide. She was more concerned with what they had to eat and where they had to sleep, earning her the name of “bougie rider” and “princess” from her friends.
“Riding on a bike, you’ve got to just put up with it. Some places were not typically places I go to,” she said.
“[Pamela] is a princess in the way of make-up and girlie stuff. Just roughing it up with her, she gave me the strength to do it,” she added, with a laugh. “We complete each other.”
On a visit home to Canada a few years ago, Asaad decided she wanted to get her motorcycle permit. It would only take her three days. When she began riding sports bikes, she was hooked on the feeling and called it “a breathtaking experience”.
She moved to the UAE six years ago, where the riding community welcomed her with open arms. She didn’t come up against any resistance as an Arab woman in the biking world.
“It’s such a misconception. I’ve actually found the opposite. People are so happy to see women riding, and they want to help out when you’re a new rider,” said Asaad.
Meanwhile, Nabhan had been passionate about bikes for as long as she could remember.
“When I was little, I had two neighbours who had bikes, and I always used to ride with them. My parents would go crazy, but I couldn’t help it,” said Nabhan. She felt that growing up in Lebanon fuelled her obsession.
“In Lebanon, there were hard times and conflict, so I was always looking for some adventure, adrenalin and freedom,” she said.
'I completely panicked'
As a freelance journalist, before becoming a rider herself, Nabhan followed the Lebanese chapter of Harleys Owners Group (HOG) to report about the causes they represented. But four years ago, she faced difficulties in her own life, from work stress to personal hardships.
“When all my issues got resolved, I needed some time for me. I needed to switch from being just a passenger to a rider,” said Nabhan.
Scrolling through photos of motorcycles, she impulsively bought her first one, a Harley Davidson she named Sky, before she even learnt how to ride. As her motorcycle was being shipped to her home, she completely panicked. She had to return it. But once she saw it in person, there was no turning back.
“I was in love with her. It was really hard at the beginning — it’s not a piece of cake, it’s really not. It was a heavy bike. But I really wanted to ride, from the bottom of my heart,” said Nabhan.
Her fear of getting behind the wheel — or rather, the handlebar — disappeared without explanation. In April, Nabhan was elected the director of the Ladies of Harley (also part of HOG) in Lebanon, bringing her journey full circle.
Asaad first heard about The Open Road through her former boss, and naively told him to inform her when the series premiered so she could watch it. Little did she know, she would be one of the show’s stars. For Nabhan, seeing Lebanon through Asaad’s eyes was a special treat.
“When you have someone with you that is not very familiar with the country, it’s like you’re discovering it all over again,” she said.
Asaad said the show is for adventure seekers and those who are too scared to discover their own potential.
“There are things on this show that I thought I would never do,” she said. “If I can change and have those experiences, anyone can.”
The first season runs for six episodes, but a second season — also starring Asaad and Nabhan — could be in the cards. Would the women be up for it?
“Anything that has riding, yes,” said Asaad. “Let’s go — when are we starting?”
Don’t miss it
The Open Road premieres in the UAE at 8pm on October 13 on Fox, Fox Life, Fox Rewayat, Fox Family, Fox Crime, Fox Movies, FX, Fox Action, National Geographic Abu Dhabi, Star Movies and Star World. Subsequent episodes will air weekly, only on Fox Life, Fox Rewayat, National Geographic Abu Dhabi and Star World.