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“Working the Problem”

You know something has changed inside when you really believe that riding a motorcycle around the world is no big deal.  You begin working the problem rather than being overwhelmed by the complexity and risk.  A scene from the movie, Apollo 13, comes to mind when the Flight Commander demands of his team, “work the problem people, work the problem!”  Riding a motorcycle around the world is no moon-shot, but most people view them with equal survivability.

Once we crossed into the “work the problem” mode, relating to other people became harder for all concerned.   The poor souls from Jonestown probably felt similar before drinking the Cool Aide, “What’s everyone worried about?” I suspect that friends quietly wonder, Are Fred and Karen OK? As our ”disease” progressed, we found ourselves seeking out a different type of friend, much as a cancer victim might seek out survivors to gain knowledge and empathy.  In our case, we wanted to talk to  people about the best way to ship a motorcycle around the Darien Gap, or what countries were safe to camp and which were not, how much should you pack, what types of clothing to take for three months rather than three days.  Talking tools, spares, and gizmos all night long is a good thing.

We crossed our personal Rubicon in the summer of 2008 when we attended our first Horizons Unlimited (HU) meeting in Colorado.  HU members are the real deal when it comes to motorcycle adventurists, made up of hard-core travel types who ride to far-away places, regularly.   Rugged and independent, most HU members gather around a tire-changing seminar with the same joy and concentration as a fantasy footballer studies the injury report.   No pretences here and no need to hide; we’re among friends.

After three days of “seminars” on how to travel to faraway places on a motorcycle, KR and I came to the same conclusion.  Like most important things in our life, KR was the first to voice our collective thought, “We can do this.  We’ve done a lot of this kind of traveling already.  We know more than most people here.  We can figure this out.  We can survive!  This is no big deal.”

To be honest, it was a lot more than three days of seminars that got us to this point.  No, it was a couple of decades worth of trips to Alaska, Mexico, every state in the US but one, Nepal, Argentina, Chile, India, a few places in Europe, Puerto Rico and some others I can’t remember.   Not all of these were by motorcycle, of course, but they contained enough “shit happens, we dealt with it” episodes that we’re comfortable with the unknowns of what lies around the next blind corner.

The Modified Plan

I knew the likelihood of getting KR to go around the world on a motorcycle at one time was less likely than the aforementioned moon-shot.  So our first modifier was “one continent at a time.”  We were both up to traveling for an extended period of time – say a continent — but then coming back to a home base for some period before heading out again.  Through a series of back and forth discussions, we generally agreed that the sequence of continents would be South America, Europe, and Africa.  Somehow we’d also find time to explore Mexico and probably dip down to Central America as well.  Asia, South East Asia, the Middle East, and Australia/New Zealand are not sequenced yet.

So, in the summer of 2008 we made the decision to start making this idea a reality, causing a two-year series of consequences chronicled in Rewired, Journey to a New Life.

We have relatively low expectations for this trip; survival, go to some far- away places, meet interesting people, experience! as much of the world as we can, and share it all with our friends.

We’ll keep in touch.

Thirteen days in South America following the toughest off-road race on Earth

Many of you have never heard of the Dakar Rally though it’s acknowledged by motor-heads as the greatest off-road race in the world.  The Dakar takes its name from the original event in 1979, which ran from Paris to Dakar, Africa.  Paris was dropped from the name some time ago and then the race came to South America last year because it became too dangerous to race in Africa.

Changing venues because of danger is ironic given the Dakar’s reputation as the most dangerous race in the world.  It’s not uncommon to have at least one competitor killed each year. It’s also dangerous for spectators as they like to stand right next to the course watching racers speed by.  This year, five spectators have been killed and one motorcyclist is in critical condition.

For those who follow motorsports, the Dakar is recognized as the toughest as well as the most dangerous motor race in the world because it takes place over fifteen days and covers almost 6000 miles of the toughest terrain known to man, woman or child.   Notice I didn’t say “road” as most of the competition take place off road in horrid sand dunes, mountain passes and just plain bad territory.   One measure of its toughness is that more than half of the 500-750 entrants each year don’t even make it to the finish line.

The race part of the event is only one of its challenges as the logistics of moving a caravan of competitors, support personnel, mechanics, and media from one daily finish line to the next would challenge the Army Corps of Engineers.    This caravan criss-crosses Argentina and Chile, causing a ripple of excitement and activity through every little (and large) town it passes through.  Competitors start each day early in the morning (motorcycles first, then ATVs, cars, small trucks and then the BIG trucks), race hundreds of miles through mountains and desert only to have to drive another couple hundred miles on main roads to the nightly camp site. There, they set-up camp, repair the vehicle, catch a shower and a meal, and fall asleep in a tent (everyone sleeps in tents — no RVs!).  This happens every day for fifteen days with only one day of rest.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Well. I joined a tour of ten other motorcyclists and spent two weeks following the Dakar circus from town to town in Argentina and Chile.  My pitch to Karen was this would be a good scouting trip for our Big Trip.  She saw through that immediately and called a spade a spade — I wanted to go ride a motorcycle in South America and the Dakar race was a good excuse.  The old saying, “be careful what you wish for,” has new meaning to me now.

Here’s the report of my two weeks chasing The Dakar.