Well, it was a heck of a trip.
43,300 miles. Ten months overall, in separate north and south rides in 2008. Not nearly enough time to do the ride justice.
I had previously read the stories of many other riders who had gone all the way north and all the way south, and I had talked with some of those riders directly. That helped prepare me for the ride, but even with the benefit of others' experiences, there were still plenty of surprises and discoveries. That's why people must make the trip themselves; each ride is different, each rider is different. Each time you might do it, it will be different.
There were times (especially while Don and I were racing southward) when it wasn't much fun at all. It was just mileage. Later, when Don had to get home, we were again zooming past places where it would have been nice to spend more time. We spent one terrible, frustrating day in Puerto Alegre, Brazil, but I later learned that it is a very interesting city and region.
The best times of the whole north-to-south ride were when I was able to go more slowly, meet people, take side trips away from the main path, and indulge the occasional whim. I can now better understand how some riders spend two years in South America. I spent seven months there, and felt as if I was missing most of the good stuff. Adversity caused my extended stay in Brazil, and I am grateful for the opportunities that that extra time provided. If my clutch hadn't broken apart north of Manaus, I wouldn't have been able to spend those extra weeks with new friends there, and I wouldn't have had such a coincidental and fortuitous arrival in San Cristobal, Venezuela.
Some concessions and compromises on such a trip as this come about because of time and finance pressures, but often those concessions and compromises are a natural consequence of riding with someone else. Even with the most compatible travel partners, there are times when moods, tastes, preferences, and interests are in conflict. Even though Don and I are good traveling companions, we often had natural disagreements about where and when to stop and go and eat, where to maybe spend a little extra time, and where we wanted to go along the way. None of those were severe conflicts, but it was enough to notice, and enough to generate some regrets about the things that were missed. Still, it was a wonderful experience, and I wouldn't have wanted it to have gone much differently. Our separate crashes in Peru were the worst incidents, but aside from those, each of the other "Oh shit!" moments contributed to what was--overall--a great time.
Some readers noticed and wrote to me that when we were riding south to Ushuaia, my writing style became dry and less interesting. A few wrote to me that the ride seemed less fun and my stories were less less funny. They were right. When I go back and read some of it, I can see that I was sometimes merely documenting the facts, not really telling the story at all. Sorry.
When I ride solo, I feel much freer to indulge in personal preferences and whim, both with the riding itself and with whom to make contact. When I was traveling alone, I was much more likely to find someone at random and strike up a conversation with them. Werner Bausenhart (author of several excellent motorcycle travel books) wrote why he felt it was best to ride solo, and I have come to agree with all of his observations. There are sometimes tactical and strategic advantages to having a riding partner, to be sure, but for the best subjective adventure riding experience, riding solo is best.
The perceptions I had about Latin America were often accurate, but were sometimes way off. From a few anecdotal and published events, I had some expectations about what to expect from people in various countries. What I found was that--aside from the many difficulties at Central American border crossings--people just about everywhere were wonderful. Nowhere did I experience any adverse reaction from people when they found out that I was from the USA. Usually, the opposite was true, and I was welcomed warmly.
When someone recently asked me how I was adjusting to being back in the States after being gone so long, I wrote this (slightly edited) reply:
After getting my bike to Miami and spending time with my brother in Florida, getting back on the bike and riding again seemed anticlimactic. I had held in my mind this image of riding straight home and having a "homecoming" sensation. But as it was, I spent a few days riding around the southern USA, then had to help other family members in South Carolina. That duty done (three weeks later), I was able to ride home, but again it seemed like a separate ride. The interlude caused enough separation from South America that it didn't seem part of the same journey.
I admit to being a little surprised at how I never felt any kind of readjusting back to being home. In no time, it seemed as if I had never left. Odd. Little things--like not having driven a car in so long--didn't cause me any awkwardness at all. In some ways, I miss the food of Latin America, but not as much as I expected. Mostly, I miss a few of the people I came to know so well in Brazil and Venezuela.
Hopefully, Laurie and I can ride there in a couple years. Depends on the economy and if we are working again.
BEST TIMES, WORST TIMES
The ride through western Canada and all through Alaska was an easy semi-adventure, in my opinion. Language wasn't an issue, and problems were more easily solved. There were no real cultural contrasts, and although things were sometimes expensive, you could almost always get what you needed. The ride north was a lot of fun, mainly because I was riding solo and could do as I pleased. It was also fun because the anxiety level was very low.
After Don had gone home from Brazil, it took a few days to relax and get back into solo-riding mode. By the time I got to Belem, Brazil, I was again enjoying being on my own. The help of Alex and Fabiani in Belem was very nice, and I got to see parts of the city I would never have found on my own. The same is true to a greater degree for the help and friendship of Joelmir, Rayane, Fabio, Napolećo, and others in Manaus. Without them, I would have a much smaller appreciation for Brazil.
Want to be a celebrity? Be the only person from the USA at the largest-ever motorcycle rally in Venezuela. Yow!
Seeing Machupicchu was magical, mystical, and something that should be on everyone's bucket list.
Getting the Prudhoe Bay-to-Ushuaia ride done in the same year--as I had intended--was very satisfying. I really appreciate Don hustling south so fast with me.
A spontaneous stop in Guasdualito, Venezuela and my decision to buy an old man a beer led to an evening spent with some of the most friendly and generous people I have even met.
Doing the thousand miles up and down the Dempster Highway in Canada in a little over twenty-four hours was strangely satisfying. There were many hours on the Dempster when I saw no other traffic at all, and the amazing scenery was all mine.
Fairbanks, Alaska, seemed like a nice city. I really liked Buenas Aires. For some reason not easy to define, I really like Bogota, although it was not nearly as tourist-friendly as Buenas Aires. I had plenty of time to get to know Manaus well, and it is now one of my favorite places. San Cristobal, Venezuela, was also an easy place to like.
Aside from my crash in Peru, the worst part of the whole trip was the terrible combined experiences of crossing the borders through Central America. Once out of Mexico, you are subject to a well-established and accepted corruption system that intends to make you the biggest victim possible. The lack of sufficient language skills contributed to our difficulties at the border crossings, but you still have to struggle through the whole mess and hope that the officials are sending you to the right places. Often, the officials refuse to help you so that you have to seek assistance from the "helpers" who are not your friends. The next time I go to South America, I intend to ship my bike directly to Colombia.
Rushing south to Ushuaia so fast precluded getting to some of the places I had intended to visit. I missed most of the Altiplano, the mines in Ecuador, the salt deserts of Bolivia (with many intended destinations there), and the mountains, lakes, and glaciers of southern Chile. They will have to wait for another visit, assuming I go that far south again.
I already mentioned that I learned a lot about Puerto Alegre after Don and I had left it behind. The same was true with some other places that I didn't appreciate while I was there. I learned in Belem that Recife, Brazil, had some of the best SCUBA diving coasts anywhere but I had zoomed through Recife without even stopping. (At that point, I was focused on getting to Belem to find a boat to go up the Amazon River; I wasn't yet relaxed at riding solo again.) Next time, I hope to do some more research about places ahead before I get there. Also, I failed to take full advantage of online forums, especially the Horizons Unlimited forum. Other riders have had good luck making contact with local riders before getting to interesting places. Having a local contact can make all the difference when you roll into a strange city. Imagine riding off the ship in Manaus and having someone you've never met call out to you by name and invite you to come stay at his home. Wonderful, I tell you.
I hadn't taken enough small gifts to give out to people along the way. I got home wearing some gifts from people I had met (two bracelets and one rosary necklace), and I had little to give them in return. In the future, I will have some things from Colorado, and from the USA, to give away.
I didn't have enough business cards. I had fifty, but should have had a hundred. Most popular were the ones with my photo and email address on the back. Another set of colorful and cartoonish cards that I had made were intended more for small kids, and they were very effective. Some small stickers that I had made were disappointing. They were not very good quality.
Yeah, I had a lot of stuff on the bike. The camping gear got used only once early on the ride to South America. (I had camped a lot more on the ride north to Prudhoe Bay.) Don and I kept our camping gear with the idea that it would be useful if we got caught on the road at night or in bad weather. That never happened--aside from the one time when we had a hurricane crap on us in northern Mexico. Don's cot got used a few times, but I could have sent my camp bag home early and not missed it. Another reason that I kept it was that it wasn't heavy and made a nice backrest. With my clothing bad on top of the camping bag, it was high enough for me to sit on when I wanted to stretch my legs without standing on the pegs.
I used most of the tools that I had carried with me. I could have done without the torque wrench and a few other plier-type tools. On the north ride, I needed no other tools, but it South America I needed to pick up a few things. I had a rotor-holding wrench made for me in Chile when I suspected damage to the balancer chain. My propane soldering torch served in most cases where electrical repairs were needed, but I did get an electric soldering iron in Brazil after repairing my computer's power supply.
As far as spare parts, I carried lots. For the ride north, I had packed the parts that I intended to take to South America even though I didn't expect to need them. This was because I treated the ride north as a dress rehearsal for the ride south. My strategy on what parts to take was based on three things. How likely was a part to fail or wear out? How bad would it be to go without that part? Would I be able to get a replacement part in the various countries I would be in? I carried a spare CDI unit, for example, for exactly these reasons. It wasn't likely to fail (although it has happened), but if it did fail it would be fatal to the bike and there would be no hope of finding a replacement. For there same reasons, I carried a few other electrical parts. I didn't end up needing any of them, but they were good insurance.
I carried a couple pounds of various nuts and bolts, washers, clips and pins, etc. These would be available as I traveled, but it was easy to carry them and I needed such parts fairly often. Sometimes a connector would vibrate off or break, so it was nice to have spares on hand. I also had a collection of electrical connectors and wires, and I needed these a few times also.
I had too much clothing on both the north and south rides. My typical concern over every possible situation caused me to over-pack. On the good side, almost everything I had was synthetic and could be easily washed in the shower or in a sink. One pair of jeans and some t-shirts were exceptions, but I only wore the jeans rarely. Most of the cold-weather gear never got used in South America. I carried a heated jacket liner the whole way to Ushuaia and never used it. The heated gloves got used, but not in heated mode. An insulated wool cap never got used. These things took up space but not much weight. If we had gone down to the glaciers of southern Chile, maybe they would have come in useful. The Aerostich Darien jacket was good enough for rain and as a wind-break when things got cool. I should have sent all my cold weather gear home from Buenas Aires.
I had too much electronic stuff. I had taken two video cameras to Alaska, but never used them. I only took one to South America (a mini-video camera that could be mounted on the bike or my helmet), but never used it. I was focused on doing a photo documentary, not video. I sent the video camera home with Laurie when she left Buenas Aires. I carried a back-up hard drive for the laptop computer, and used it to clone the computer's drive a few times. I was depending on the computer a lot (which is common with adventure riders these days), and wanted to be able to replace the drive should it fail.
I went through several cameras, mostly due to my carelessness at not securing them well enough. It was to be expected, to some degree, since I chose to have a camera available on the handlebars for quick shots. This put the cameras in harm's way, but I got a ton of photos from the bike that would otherwise have been missed. The one camera that I lost when it fell out of my jacket pocket was quite a loss. Hundreds of photos from Central America were lost.
My Slime air pump failed for no apparent reason in northern Chile and I had no backup means to inflate a tire. If Don's pump had failed, we would not have been able to repair a flat tire. Much later, I picked up a replacement pump and added a small hand pump.
What would I do differently?
I would have a better seat on the bike. Even though I had modified the Corbin seat to be a bit softer, it was still hard to take for long. I have met other riders who had taken KLRs long distances, and those who had invested in a custom seat had no regrets.
I would expect to find appropriate clothing along the way, so I won't carry everything with me from the very beginning.
I'll be quicker to send things home (or abandon it) as I travel. Lots of things accumulate, like t-shirts and other memorabilia.
Most of the modifications I had made to the bike were worth it, but not all. Still, since I had no idea what to expect with road conditions and how much off-road riding would be involved, I wanted to be prepared. If I go again on a different KLR (very likely), I'll do most of the same things to it.
I'll probably think of more stuff later, but this will do for now.
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