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Chasing Adventure Via Motorcycle in Latin America

On the pampas the horizons appear to flee. The llamas are golden, the clouds impossibly white. We let the bikes run. Instantly, the view adjustments. The lead bike rises above the road of the horizon, a rider flails by the air 10 ft above the bottom. This isn’t good. Jeff has gone off the street at 70 mph. Katie goes into paramedic mode, calming Jeff, operating her palms up his backbone, probing, checking ribs, legs, arms. The autumn has ripped his touring jacket from shoulder to waist, peeling the again protector to disclose the We-Construct-Bridges T-shirt. He’s scuffed, however inside moments is guffawing, flashing the “I Cannot Imagine I am Nonetheless Alive” grin that’s his default expression.

Ryan pulls the bike up and begins accumulating the bits scattered throughout the desert. The bags is destroyed. The best handlebar is bent nearly to the tank. Mirrors, flip indicators, entrance fender snapped off in a microsecond. Each wheel rims have dents. Extremely, it nonetheless runs. He places the components that also work again on the bike, takes it for a check journey. It is going to final one other 7,000 miles. Our motto: We Will Make This Work.

Jeff tells what occurred. A small chicken had hopped into his path. The subsequent factor he knew he was off the street, launched right into a culvert. “I assumed, wow. I am Superman. Oh look, there’s the bike. Oh look, there’s the chicken…” In a subject strewn with jagged boulders, he had landed on sand.


The journey got here up lengthy earlier than I used to be prepared. A telephone name, an invite to tag together with a gaggle of BMW riders embarking on a five-week, 8,000-mile journey from Peru to Virginia. I’d doc the journey, a fundraising effort for a gaggle that builds footbridges in distant areas of the world. I would been desirous about an extended journey, one thing open-ended, with out assist automobiles, the expertise of being completely “on the market.” This appeared to suit the invoice. A 3rd of the space world wide with full strangers. I had a brand-new BMW F 800 GS and it was thirsty. If there was a degree of no return, I crossed it earlier than I hung up the telephone.

First, the riders. Ken Hodge is an insurance coverage advantages specialist and member in good standing of the Newport Information Rotary Membership. He found bikes late in life, when he purchased a motorcycle, rode it throughout nation in 48 hours, then started to dream of an even bigger journey, one thing for an excellent trigger.

He recruited his daughter Katie (a hearth division paramedic), his stepson Ryan (a mechanic and dirt-bike rider) and Ryan’s greatest buddy Jeff. I am impressed by their preparations. They journey previous BMW R 1150s and F 650 singles. Ryan had spent a yr renewing the bikes, poking concerning the inside recesses, memorizing the store manuals for every machine. They might carry sufficient instruments and components to deal with nearly each emergency.


We cease at Nazca to view the traditional figures scratched within the rocky desert. From the highest of a tower we will see a determine with raised palms. Simply to the north, the Pan-American Freeway bisects the determine of a lizard, decapitating the creature. Sure by the tight focus of brass transit ranges, the surveyors who laid out the street weren’t even conscious of the sacred relics, found when aerial flight grew to become frequent.

I notice that we’re as blinded by focus, by focus because the surveyors have been by their instrument. The journey will probably be a collection of pictures, sidelong glances, captured at velocity.

Descendants of the individuals who constructed the Inca path, Peruvian builders know their stuff. Nevertheless it’s the tracery, the managed circulate of momentum, that has our respect. The street ascends historic seabeds, hills lined with talus, fractured dry ridges with cornices sculpted by landslides. Noon, we discover ourselves on a excessive pampas inhabited by hundreds of vicuña and alpaca. Within the distance, our first sight of snowcapped peaks. There are stone corrals on close by slopes, one-room huts. In the course of this big nowhere, a lone shepherd strolling on the facet of the hill.

We uncover that the distances on maps are these of the condor. We journey extremely twisted roads that generally take 100 turns (and a number of other miles) to get from one ridge to the following. The map signifies cities, however to our dis-may not all have gasoline stations. We purchase gasoline in a small outpost from a lady who ladles it out of a bucket with a espresso pot, then pours it by a plastic, woven kitchen funnel into our tanks. The entire city watches. We push on into the descending evening. We make it to the following set of lights, 20 or so buildings on two streets, discover a resort, and park our bikes in an enclosed yard with canine, chickens, lifeless birds, plastic bottles and an animal conceal tanning on the wall. As an alternative of the same old exit indicators, the restaurant in our resort has inexperienced arrows that say “ESCAPE.” It isn’t a criticism of the meals. The forces that drive the Andes skyward have been identified to demolish complete cities.

The subsequent morning we fireplace up the bikes, and ascend into the Andes on an ideal street. We’re fluid, going by hairpins, double hairpins, squared-off turns-climbing the flank of a single 4,700-meter peak. I can consider just one phrase: scrumptious. We transfer by mist and low-hanging clouds, with shafts of daylight slanting into rainbows. The valleys under are inexperienced and fertile, a mixture of previous Inca terracing and extra trendy farms. Slender eucalyptus bushes line the street, offering shade for huts with pink tile roofs. A lady tends a flock of goats (recognized with colourful ribbons) on a inexperienced meadow, e-book in hand. At one level I feel the clouds above have parted to disclose patches of blue, however once I search for I see that it’s snow-covered rock, one other 3,000 or 4,000 ft of mountain. On a turnoff close to the highest of the height we discover a dozen or so tiny shrines, little church buildings embellished with flowers and ribbons and pictures of family members. The location of a bus plunge. On a hillside throughout the valley paragliders work the thermals, the canopies wanting like bright-colored eyebrows, or ostentatious angels.

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We share the street with vicuña, alpaca, llama, sheep, goats, canine, roosters, pigs, horses and cows. On a slender lane close to Abancay, a bull tries to gore me as I go, charging and making a hooking movement with its horns. One evening after the sundown, I spherical a nook and a lovely roan stallion wheels within the gentle from our bikes, filling the lane with huge eyes and flashing hoofs, inches from my head. I notice that using sweep poses a danger. The novelty of our passing bikes wears off, and the native wildlife has time to react.

Getting into Cusco, Ryan asks instructions, a woman directs us onto a slender cobblestone road, slick with rain, as steep as a bobsled run. The rocks are turned on their facet, like enamel. The knobbies don’t have any traction by any means. The individuals on the sidewalks frantically wave their palms, indicating that the street will get steeper. I contact my brake and the bike goes down, pinning my leg in opposition to the curb, 1 / 4 of an inch shy of a fracture. The bike behind me goes down. It’s harrowing. The locals assist us carry the bikes, get them turned uphill.

A police escort leads us to a resort that lets us retailer the bikes within the foyer. With out bothering to bathe, we make our method to the Norton Rats Bar on the northeast nook of the central plaza. The proprietor, an American expatriate, as soon as piloted a Norton to the tip of the continent. The partitions are lined with images from the journey. Above the bar are mounted heads, the 4 previous American presidents, with their greatest identified soundbites: I’m not a criminal. I didn’t inhale. I don’t recall. We’ll discover WMD in Iraq. We sip beers, commerce tales, attempting to reassemble the previous few days. The lifeless battery. The punctured radiator. The roadside repairs. The unbelievable rush of unrelenting magnificence.

Three days of desert north of Lima generate a couple of particulars. The overall absence of life, the three colours of sand. Younger boys pedaling tricycle ice cream carts in the course of nowhere. We enter a <I>zona de nimbleras</I>, however as an alternative of fog we discover a 60-mph crosswind that sends a layer of grit skittering throughout the street like a particular impact in a Steven Spielberg film. Two lanes slender to 1 lined by blowing sand, thick sufficient to swallow the entrance tire, deep sufficient {that a} street grader prepares to clear the drifting sands.

We resolve to attempt a secondary route by the hills. We flip onto a dust street and every thing adjustments. We go by villages alive with individuals, canine, tiny three-wheel taxis common from previous bikes. Youngsters on motorscooters journey previous, snapping footage with their cell telephones. The street throws split-finger fastballs on the bash plate that clang as loud and adamant because the sound of an aluminum bat. We slosh our method by gravel, grey mud on every thing, components falling off, enamel rattling. Oh sure, that is what we wished.


In Macara, we sit on the sidewalk close to a minor city sq., consuming pork cooked by a rotund lady in a yellow gown. Her daughter brings us three beers (big) at a time, and retains the empties in a milk crate for accounting later. Boys on motorbikes cruise the quiet streets, the fortunate ones with ladies on the again. Throughout the sq., ladies sit on benches. Jeff experiences a cultural revelation, that South American ladies have breasts, and put on tight pants…and “Hey, I feel she likes me.”

Our dinner companion is David McCollum, an American expatriate that Ryan had met on He tells us tales about using the Ecuadoran Andes, and provides us tips about dealing with roadblocks. “Act Silly. Don’t attempt to talk in Spanish. Say ‘No fumar Espanol’ (I do not smoke Spanish). If all else fails, have Katie cry.” Er, Katie doesn’t do “cry.” The subsequent day he leads us into the Ecuadoran Andes.

Impressions: Razor-sharp ridges. Lumpy, conical outcroppings. Monasteries on high of hills. Slopes so steep they may by no means be labored by machine. A pair standing above darkish earth, the person holding a picket hoe, the lady a bag of seeds. A lady on horseback, black and pink cape, a whip coiled in a single hand. Timber. Cloud. Mist. The texture of a Japanese block print, those that counsel the street goes to infinity.

I had launched the group to a household custom. After we journey, we finish every day by recounting excessive level, low level and humorous bone. After this present day, I’ll add “Pucker moments.” Vans hurtle out of the fog, operating with out lights, signaled solely by the ghostly wave pushed earlier than. They seem in our lane with out warning or motive. We undergo development websites the place the street narrows to 1 lane that gives no escape route. One facet appears hideously near the brand new concrete, studded with rebar fangs. The opposite facet is precipice. Pucker moments? Take your decide.

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Typically it is the floor, a half mile of muddy bobsled run, of free gravel, of gushing water, the bike dealing with like a free bowel. Twice, we spherical a nook and discover no street, the floor having caved in, sucked away by underground torrents. Katie’s second comes when a cow, with no footing, scrambles into the trail of her bike. For Jeff, it’s passing a truck that all of the sudden swerves to keep away from a pothole, the trailer swinging towards him like a baseball bat.

We spend two days in Cuenca, a 500-year-old metropolis surrounded by mountains. Ken telephones forward and discovers that the ship that was to have taken us and the bikes from Ecuador to Panama would not exist (had we had medication or been unlawful aliens, no drawback, however there aren’t any lodging for <I>turistas</I> with bikes). We ask David for assist. Whereas we journey to Quito, he’ll work the telephones. He finds a contact, a man identified for getting issues achieved when nobody else can. We meet up with this air freight magician at The Turtle’s Head, a biker bar in Quito. At midnight.

The subsequent morning we journey our bikes to the army part of the airport, then right into a refrigerated warehouse. The metal ground is roofed with embedded ball bearings, throughout which slide metal palettes. For the following three hours we wrestle with tiedowns. A thin man dressed fully in black oversees the operation, taking footage of the bikes with a digital digital camera, ensuring batteries are disconnected, tires are deflated. Drug-sniffing canine poke their noses into each recess.

Then, similar to that, our bikes are gone, on their method to Panama within the stomach of an airplane.


Central American nations are the scale of postage stamps. You may cross them in a day and a half, solely to spend a half day at customs and immigration. Ken had ready Xerox copies of all our paperwork (passports, licenses, titles, registration, VIN numbers) and had them notarized. As he works with the official within the air-conditioned workplace, we sit in 100-degree warmth and watch ants carry grains of dust from beneath the bottom. We’ll turn out to be used to the calls for for extra copies, the freelance forex merchants waving payments in entrance of our faces, the younger hustlers prepared to facilitate the method, the meals distributors ready for hunger to beat warning about native delicacies.

Earlier than embarking on this journey, I would learn State Division journey advisories. The part on Peru warned that 5 Individuals had died from liposuction in Lima. OK, was that consensual liposuction, or have been there gangs of thugs wielding vacuum cleaners with sharp pointy attachments? Nearly each entry on Central American nations warned about faux checkpoints, bandits in uniform, troopers in the course of nowhere.

Alongside the roadside are indicators with a blood-red eye and the warning <I>vigilantes</I>. We spherical a nook to seek out two troopers strolling patrol, miles from the closest city. They ask for paperwork. A surge of adrenaline turns my mouth to cotton. David, our buddy in Ecuador had given us good recommendation: Act silly. Smile. We appear to have a pure expertise for that. <I>No fumar Espanol</I>. After inspecting our paperwork, they wave us on. Within the subsequent few weeks we will probably be stopped repeatedly, sniffed by canine, x-rayed, wanded with gadgets that appear like carving knives with automobile antennas the place the blade ought to be. At border crossings, guys in jumpsuits and facemasks spray our bikes with liquids designed to kill stowaway bugs too lazy to cross borders below their very own energy. There are troopers at each gasoline station, armed attendants at comfort shops and eating places, guys with shotguns on Pepsi vehicles. We’re conscious of poverty, a tradition of felony alternative. The evening air can strip your bike bare, when you do not discover a resort with safe parking.

These nations are linked by soil to the US, and our tradition has rattled its method by. Central America is a bike tradition. Entire households whiz by, perched on slender seats, sporting helmets with lacking visors. In Panama Metropolis we run into a gaggle of Harley riders. The bikes have exhausts the scale of howitzers, the horns blare a soundtrack of particular results. They encompass us, and ask if we wish to be a part of their common weekend burger run. We observe them to an unique nation membership simply past the Mira Flores locks on the Panama Canal. They ship us off with instructions to a bed-and-breakfast up the coast. I go to sleep that evening in a hammock, a bottle of beer nonetheless clutched in my hand, the blades of a fan whirring softly overhead.

Central America has a special really feel than Peru and Ecuador, a special gravity. We transfer by verdant countryside at a velocity that might be pure in Virginia or Colorado or California. The vegetation seems to be like fireworks, solely inexperienced. Right here clusters of 1 plant have taken over a hillside. There a special species explodes. A sluggish conflict.

We have now been within the saddle for 3 weeks. Nothing can break our tempo. We abandon the Pan-American Freeway and discover roads that make it appear to be you’ve got two flat tires, ones that appear such as you’re using on an oil spill. There are slender, one-vehicle-at-a-time bridges of mismatched narrow-gauge rails, or on lesser roads, metal plates tossed throughout rotting timbers. The terrain is a geological mash-up, with out the facility of the Andes, however sufficient sudden elevation change and tight corners to make for an attention-grabbing journey. Cities announce themselves with velocity bumps and potholes that may swallow bikes complete. I see street indicators distinctive to the nation, silhouettes of wierd animals. A snake crossing. A jaguar crossing. In Costa Rica we hit a 30-mile stretch of gravel street, and the world turns into mud. The bikes come alive. We romp, skitter, wander, trusting the gyroscope. I attempt to learn the unusual shadows that seem within the dust-bicyclists, ATVs, enormous vehicles with no lights-not all the time precisely. There are breaks within the mud cloud once I see fields full of white cattle and at their ft white egrets. The sky tinges pink with gentle from a setting solar. A sense nearly like peace.

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We spend an evening in Arsenal, a vacation spot resort for adrenaline junkies with discretionary earnings. Posters promote cover walks, zipline rides by the rain forest, the prospect to rappel down waterfalls, evening hikes to lava flows, kayaking, canoeing. We ignore the presents, saddle up and journey into the rain forest. A bunch of meercats swarms down an embankment onto the street. Monkeys cavort within the bushes overhead. A vacationer zips by on a metal cable casting a shadow on the street, a blur of colour within the sky. It seems to be like somebody was hanging laundry and forgot to take his or her garments off.

Nicaragua has its personal really feel. We journey previous volcanoes so massive they make their very own climate, the crowns hidden beneath wide-brimmed clouds. Don Quixote in his barber bowl hat. The streets are clogged with horsedrawn buggies. We discover a resort close to the city sq.. Throughout the road from the resort is a store providing galactic Web. The normal tradition is slowly dropping floor to bandwidth. Relay towers compete with church steeples, billboards for cell service block outsized statues of saints on close by hilltops.

We go to a bridge, constructed by Ken’s group, in a distant space of Honduras. On the turnoff from the primary street I feel we’re coming into a drainage ditch. Certainly, in the course of the wet season the street is impassable, the clay floor too slick for traction. Now, the bikes sort out a street gouged by erosion, working their method round rocks uncovered by the drive of water. That is by far essentially the most technical using of the journey.

The 40-mile street will take 5 hours to cross. The clawmark gullies pull Ken’s bike out from below him; Katie rides right into a ditch and smashes her bike’s windscreen. Even Ryan has bother. The river, after we attain it, is intimidating. I take footage of the bikes as they arrive by, pushing a bow wave over entrance wheels, jouncing up the rocks on the opposite facet. If a visit might be diminished to 1⁄250th of a second, a single second seared in reminiscence, these footage could be it.

We cross into Guatemala, and spend the evening with Hemingway impersonators and Jimmy Buffet wannabes in Rio Dulce. The resort has a beautiful cheesy feeling. The overhead fan showers sparks. The facility goes off at common intervals, as does the water. If you need a bathe, step outdoors. We spend an extended day using by rain. The water destroys one among my cameras, turning the LCD into an aquarium. Hey, I’ve sufficient footage.


On the first city over the Mexican border, we cease for instructions on a crowded road. A truck sideswipes my bike, snags a sidecase, and drags me down. I am unharmed, however the windscreen and instrument panel lie in fragments. The police, once they arrive, are the alternative of useful. We accumulate the damaged bits, duct tape every thing in sight, and fireplace it up. We’re unstoppable. We journey on, however the temper of the journey adjustments and the calendar beckons. Katie, Ryan and Jeff need to be again by a sure date, or they lose their jobs.

The journey turns into time vs. distance, a push that blurs most of Mexico, and a remaining border crossing into the US.

We hurtle throughout lengthy roads, nursing bikes which might be displaying indicators of wear and tear. Ken’s bike is lacking a sidestand. Ryan’s helmet a visor. Katie treats her BMW’s busted windscreen like a badge of honor, however nonetheless, a 75-mph headwind is exhausting. Jeff’s bike has chewed the rear sprocket to nubbins, the chain is starting to slide. It is going to wind up in a U-Haul 100 miles from house.

5 weeks after departing, we see the lights of Newport Information. As they enter the town, Ken, Ryan and Katie unfold throughout the street, facet by facet, arms raised. The lengthy journey is over.