The start of an adventure
It’s the summer of my ninth year in Alaska and I’m preparing for a new adventure. In less than a week, I will begin riding a motorbike from the very north of Alaska to the very south of South America and beyond. My adventure won’t set a speed record; instead, I’m traveling through as many countries, territories, and states as politically and logistically possible along an unknown route and within a schedule governed largely by the weather and the whim of suggestion and inspiration. Some of the places and people I visit are planned, but otherwise, this trip is truly an adventure and exploration of the world.
I’m maintaining a personal blogging website, ripe with unfinished features like GPS tracking, a media gallery, e-mail subscriptions, and more. It is the main tool to track my travels, experiences, and thoughts, but I will also cross-post to a ride report thread at advrider.com. I welcome friends and strangers to comment and share in my experience, but I certainly don’t demand such an audience or participation. Please bear with me as I finish my website and refine my writing style and posts.
The next four sections of this first post serve as a formal introduction of myself and the journey that has prepared me for what I hope will be a humbling exploration of North, Central, and South America. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy!
To this day, I owe my sense of adventure to my parents. They continue to encourage me through example to wander, explore, and venture into the unknown. For the first seventeen years of my life, I lived on the sunny, west coast of Florida. The open water beckoned, and by twelve, I spent summers boating the shallows of Tampa Bay, slowly expanding the end of the world by adding additional fuel cans for the outboard and sandwiches for my stomach.
It was this seaworthy red skiff and the company of a faithful dog that turned an otherwise boring trip to the beach into an amazing exploration of wildlife, abandoned shipwrecks, historical fortresses, and inclement weather.
I swam with manatees, touched fins with dolphins, climbed through half-sunken boats, dove submerged cannon batteries from the Spanish American War, and witnessed the destruction from Florida’s most damaging hurricanes. I plucked claws from stone crab, hooked shark in chummed water, and hunted gator from a canoe–armed only with a flashlight and spear gun.
I know I did not realize the significance of these experiences then, but without them, I don’t think I would have been prepared for the adventure that was to come.
After my 17th birthday, that adventure arrived. I drove with my parents, brother, and grandmother from Florida to Alaska in an epic, 5000-mile move across North America. From one end of the continent to the other, we exchanged summer for winter, beaches for mountains, and manatees for moose. It wasn’t the first day in Alaska that we drove through the Copper River Valley, staring in awe at the Wrangell Mountains, that I knew hiking was in my future.
In only a few years, day hikes turned into multi-day hikes, and summer backpacking lead to winter camping. It wasn’t long before my brother and I spent the long nights of winter traversing dangerous peaks, digging snow caves, and weathering blizzards above treeline in whiteout conditions.
Though my time in Alaska has offered me more in terms of life skills, experiences, and opportunities than I can list, a few stand out. I helped my family remodel a beautiful custom log home from the ground up. The parents sent me backpacking through Europe with a friend. The University of Alaska sent me down the aisle with an amazing education. The best employer anyone could want helped me turn a hobby of building websites into a profession while offering uncensored insight into how to run a successful small business. Finally, my time in Alaska has offered me almost a decade of time to cherish my family, build strong friendships, and seriously consider my goals in life.
I could say that I was born to ride and show you convincing photos to boot. I could also say that I learned to ride 12 years ago at age 14 on the country roads of Florida. In truth, it was a crash 12 years ago on the country roads of Florida and on my dad’s motorcycle that quelled any and all interest I had in motorcycles.
Ten years later in June of 2008, I faced the fear of that crash and completed the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic Rider course. At age 24, I began riding my dad’s 1100 Honda Shadow… again…. this time keeping the bike upright and on the road. It was the MSF course that helped me regain confidence and grow an appreciation for two-wheeled exploration.
And then, a new goal and drive for adventure emerged. The professional vagabonds Pat and Ali stayed a few days in our home during their second tour of the world, this time driving a blue, 1958 VW Bus. They visited the State Fair in Palmer and otherwise bummed around, we each enjoying the other and tales of travel. Not unlike avidly unemployed bums, Pat and Ali spoke of what might be next after driving the world in a bus, having already circumnavigated by sailboat and raced by way of car. Pat spoke of a two-wheeled adventure by motorbike.
I promptly took their advice and watched The Long Way Round series with Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor. It wasn’t enough, and I soon lost even more valuable sleep watching The Long Way Down series by the same blokes and reading The Longest Ride by Emilio Scotto. I was inspired, and I knew I wanted to ride a long distance tour of my own.
I knew I wanted to ride, but I wondered if I could afford it. I didn’t even have a motorcycle. Thanks to Charlie and Ewan, I knew BMW makes an excellent dual sport touring bike. Thanks to the Internet, I also discovered that BMW is very proud of their dual sport touring bikes. At least initially, I vowed to find a used Suzuki V-Strom and learn to ride an inexpensive bike before investing tens of thousands of dollars in a new one. That vow ended abruptly with the test ride of a six year old DL-1000, and I promised myself I wouldn’t settle for less than the stoutest of bikes.
This determination immediately increased the bike budget by three or four hundred percent. I knew I needed to start saving… a lot. The kind folks at The Motorcycle Shop in Anchorage endured endless questions and emails from me through the winter of 2008 and into 2009. By my 25th birthday in March of 2009, I arranged creative interest-free credit financing, researched the best deal on insurance, and signed the papers for a model year end 2008 BMW R1200 GS.
A new bike seemed like a good start, but it truly felt like a blank slate on which to build and prepare the tools needed for a multi-year ride. These are the modifications and upgrades I made to the bike:
- Air horn
- Aluminum rear panniers with power
- Aluminum top case
- Auxiliary fuse box
- Auxiliary fuel and water cans
- Camera mount
- Custom throttle lock
- Cylinder head protectors
- Dash Powerlet outlet
- Dash standard outlet
- Driving lights
- GPS mount and power
- Handlebar risers
- Headlamp guard
- LED brake lights
- LED running lights
- Mud flap
- Tall hand guards
- Tank bag with electrification ring
- Tank panniers
- Upper and lower crash bars
While working to save money for the tour and preparing the motorbike, I lived vicariously through ride reports and maintenance tutorials at advrider.com and learned to work on my bike. The 600 mile service taught me to change the oil, adjust the valves, and replace the final drive fluid. At 3000 miles, I explored and learned how to use the BMW RepRom repair CD. And at 7000 miles, I performed the third scheduled maintenance and changed the stock tires to TKC 80s. Each new maintenance task gave me the opportunity to read tutorials, buy the necessary tools, and learn the workings of the bike in preparation for the tour. At this point, I’m prepared with tools and experience to plug holes, change rubber, and perform the regular maintenance. Baring a major component failure, I’m self sufficient.
I realize that the real preparation for a tour is not in the gear, kit, motorbike, or finances. It’s not in the website, the technology, or the route and destination. Even though all these components continue to ail me and consume hundreds of hours of my time, the real preparation for a tour is in one’s head. This year, it took a fairly significant emotional commitment to quit my job, sell all of my possessions, and tell my friends and family of my plans. I continue to struggle with mustering enough confidence to quell the apprehension that surfaces in my dreams in these nights ahead of my departure.
I worry about being alone and away from my family; I fantasize about being alone. I worry about not having a schedule or a destination; I can’t wait to not have a schedule and truly learn the meaning of adventure. The idea of living exclusively off of my savings frightens me, but the freedom to explore and live frugally excites me. I continue to fight with these dichotomies each day, and I know I just need to shut up, get on the bike, and ride off. Everything is better when I’m riding. Everything calms itself. Just quit preparing and start the ride.
I just can’t leave yet–but soon. As I’ve always worked best under pressure, I set the departure date for August 16, 2010. Between now and then, I’ll say my goodbyes, finish the website, pack the bike, and not fret over the worrisome aspects of this life altering adventure before me. A few butterflies in the stomach certainly can’t stop me now.