Wednesday, September 3, 2008

An Idea is born - South to Tierra del Fuego

It all started with a woman. It always does, doesn't it?

It was 2005. I was getting on the Red Ball ferry with my Harley to return to Seattle after visiting my daughter Kim who was staying on Vancouver (BC) Island. And there she was in front of me: Tall, early 20s, not particularly attractive, but not bad. Dressed in a scruffy pair of jeans and a t-shirt. And riding one of the most over-loaded, beat up motorcycles this side of Alaska. I mean, this thing was piled so high with duffle bags, camping equipment, and even a guitar that you could hardly find the seat. More like a donation pile for the Salvation Army floating on two wheels than a motorcycle.

"Where are you headed" I asked.
"Costa Rica", answered my muse.
"Have you done much biking?", I continued
"No, I just bought this thing and took the course to get my licence"
"Do you speak Spanish", I inquired, somewhat incredulously.
"No, but I hope to learn some there"

Well, I've done a lot of riding, both in Asia, Canada, and the US. But this chick took the cake: No experience, no Spanish, just out of college, and heading off for whatever life had to offer. Definitely more balls than brains, but you had to give her credit for just going for it.

And I started to think (always dangerous): If she could do it -- with virtually no preparation or existing skills -- why couldn't I? And why stop at Costa Rica? Why not just keep going to the bottom of the world... Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia? And so an idea was born.

But when to go? Once I got the idea, I started researching everything I could about motorcycle adventure travel. Books and articles by guys (and an occasional gal) who have riden South America, Africa, and around the world. At one point my research brought me to the movie "Diarios de Motocicleta" (Motorcycle Diaries). The film chronicles a motorcycle trip that Che Guevarra (before he became the famous revolutionary) and his friend Alberto Granado made in 1952 from Argentina to Venezuela.

Their goal was to arrive in Venezuela for Alberto's 30th birthday. And again that "thinking" thing took over my brain: If Che and Alberto could do it for Alberto's 30th, why shouldn't I do it for my 60th? I would be twice as experienced, twice as mature, and (let's face it) just plain twice as OLD! But as much as I looked for ways, I realized that no matter what I did I was not going to get any younger. So the time was set: I would leave in 2008 to ride to the bottom of the world.

There was another consideration, of course. After 25 years of marriage (plus another 5 together) I did have to run this idea past Karen. After all, I might be gone 4 to 6 months. But this is the woman who, when I finished my doctorate and asked her where she wanted to move to, replied "anywhere we haven't lived before". So her attitude was "go for it". Did she want to come with me? No, even an occasional sitting on a bike for 8 or 10 hours in the rain didn't appeal to her. Her only condition: "It's fine as long as I can fly down to visit some of these places while you're on the trip". So now we had a few "together" things that we could plan too.

A few things have changed since that initial decision. We left Seattle, moved to Indiana, and then moved to Panama, which eliminated the US/Central America portion. But as part of my preparation and practice for the "big" adventure I've done two trips through Central America in the last year, so I haven't really missed out on that part. And today I sit in our home in Panama City doing the final preparations: A few more parts for the bike, a little more paperwork to make sure things run smoothly for Karen while I'm gone, insurance to arrange, and a myriad of other details.

But the date is fast approaching: September 12, 2008 I fly the bike to Bogota, Colombia. I fly to Bogota on the 14th, and then head south. Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. And when I reach Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world... who knows? I might just decide to keep going!

And to think, it all started with a woman. But then, it always does, doesn't it?

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