You're here for a good time, not for a long time.

You're here for a good time, not a long time.

December 22, 2011


It was in Salar de Uyuni that I realized I was thinking about home the same way I used to dream about this adventure.  Even standing in the center of the biggest salt lake in the world, all I could imagine was reinstating my Xbox Live subscription and going out to the garage to tinker on my ’82 XT 550.  The novelty of waking up in the same bed for longer than three consecutive days and wandering out to a refrigerator loaded with familiar foods was compelling me.  Developing a daily routine, a steady diet , nice clothes, working out, pursuing other hobbies; these all were starting to sound better than living out of stuff sacks, smelling like gasoline, and living on third world fast food all day shitting my guts dry every morning. 

It wasn’t until Santiago, though, that I felt like I had nothing left to prove.  In Bolivia I was tired of travelling, but not ready to quit.  There was still Argentina, the country I’d been anticipating since senior year of high school.  Plus Patagonia.  Plus in my head this has always been a ride from Seattle to Buenos Aires.  I needed to get to BA so that when I tell this story to American girls, they’ll at least have a grasp of how badass it is (face it, Seattle to Potosi doesn’t have the same ring).  Most importantly, my mom had a flight booked to meet me in a month.  Continuing south was the only option, but for the first time I was eager to get the trip over with and get on to something new.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about the impact of the last nine months.  Back in March, before I left, people would ask my plans for when I come home; I had none.  I’d just spent two years wearing blinders working on the trip around the world.  There was nothing beyond it, because it was the only thing that mattered.  Getting away was the focus, not getting back.  I needed a chance to live only for myself.  Outside of the realm I was so familiar with.

Before this trip straight A’s in high school and a 3.7 in college had sucked some ambition out of me.  I knew that if the only reason to do my best was to keep piling on more work and responsibility then I wasn’t going to enjoy the next four decades very much.  After college I set out on a ‘shithead phase’, a year or two where I shirked responsibility for skiing, windsurfing, and recklessness.  I was lucky that Alex caught me just when minimum wage jobs and worthless coworkers were really starting to wear me down.  His trip around the world was the right mix of hard work and planning paired with complete disrespect for the future. 

With a plan as grand as riding around the world I was able to apply myself while still putting off any decisions that would result in the chains of life.  My friends all nodded and smiled when I’d pour over the trip to them; they were all supportive, but the idea didn’t seem to compel anyone else like it did Alex and me.  Whatever it was that had me so restless, I would find the answers on the road. If I could make it home alive, I’d deserve a satisfied mind.  In the weeks leading up to the trip I got sick of hearing ‘dude, you could die…’ so I threw myself a birthday going away party called ‘The Ready to Die Party’.  Of course I wasn’t ready to die, but I was ready to test myself in something other than academics or employment.  What’s amazing is how well this trip did just that.

Eight months later, I know why I left.  I’ve got an appreciation for my home and country more than I dreamed possible.  Everyone needs to get out of the U.S. to really appreciate it.  If you watch our media enough you begin to believe that our best days are behind us.  Cross a couple borders south, though, and the power and draw of the United States present themselves.  Our problems are so inconsequential compared to those I’ve been surrounded by in the last months.  It’s an inevitability that we won’t have the rest of the world by the balls like we did for most of the last century, but that doesn’t mean it’s any worse of a place to live.  And the look across every single foreigner’s face when they find you you’re American is a reminder that we still are a symbol of exceptionality throughout the world.

Then there’s a newfound confidence that life can’t get more difficult than I’ve experienced or witnessed down here.  I’ve passed the ‘ready to die’ test; under harsher circumstances thanI anticipated.  Starring down a gun barrel, watching Alex disappear underneath that truck, bailing into dirt ditches; these were all things I wouldn’t volunteer for ever again.  I literally waded through piss and shit to escape something I threw myself into.  But having come out in one piece, I stand proud.  There’s a slight remorse that I did nothing charitable while confronting such horrible living conditions most of the way down here.  The fact is there just wasn’t time or money to make a worthwhile impact.

 Volunteering and small donations are important and I commend anyone who takes part, but I think my next few decades will be better spent understanding the root issues and working to make a much more dramatic impact.  Rather than donate my under-utilized time slapping mud bricks together, I think I’d prefer to go make a million dollars and throw a hundred thousand into the solution.  Regardless, I now know there are bigger problems in the world than Seattle traffic and partisan politics; I won’t forget that as I continue on.

I’m no longer worried about answering the big question ‘what are you going to do when you get back?’  I don’t have one set plan right now, but I’ve got heaps of short-term and long-term ideas and projects to get me where I want to be in ten years.  Some of them involve getting rich, some just finding a happy place.  This trip has given me a lot of perspective; taught me a lot about what I need to be satisfied and which aspects of life matter the most.  My eyes are opened to a lot more options with parameters expanded far beyond where they started out eight months ago.  I plan to wander to a degree, but still in a progressive direction, never backpedaling or treading water.  Where and what are just the details.  Nothing’s decided, but I’m going to hit the ground running and make the rest of my twenties count for a lot.

Countless people have warned me that when I go home I’ll have changed dramatically, but home will be exactly the same.  To that I say damn straight.  Home was pretty awesome as I remember it.  I didn’t want to leave; I had to so that I could come back and stop wondering.  I plan to settle in quite nicely and pull up stumps for a while, indulging in the comfort of something constant and familiar.  That’s not to say that I’ll stay either; there are high paying jobs and big opportunities elsewhere.  But the Pacific Northwest will always be home, I have no doubt. 

By the time this is published the ball will already be rolling.  The bike is crated and on a boat steaming for Seattle.  I land in Vancouver, BC on Tuesday after a sixteen hour flight that took me nine months to accomplish overland.  The process of returning home happened fast, even though I’ve been planning these dates for the last two months.  As I said, I felt like there was nothing left to prove once I made it to Santiago.  I had my eyes on the future, I had an appreciation for home, and a confidence that I wanted to take home use to my advantage.  I’d seen enough.

I was also getting tired.  Since Argentina there’s been an overwhelming feeling that I’m pushing my luck every time I mount the bike.  There have been a lot of instances on this ride where I threaded a needle.  As Chas warned back in Baja, motorcycles really do come down to milliseconds.  I ride cautiously, but after 20,000 miles I’ve had my share of encounters that left me praying to God.  I’ve come within feet of flying off cliffs when I couldn’t make the turn, often ending up in the oncoming lane.  I’ve locked up my rear tire at 60mph inches from the rear bumper of a slow moving car after I came up on it way too fast.  I would have gone over my handlebars hitting a baby llama in Peru if the stupid animal hadn’t tripped in its terror darting across the street.  These, and hundreds more, were mistakes that I decided not to mention in previous reports.  Then throw in all the other maniacs crowding the road driving even more dangerously.  Every day I cheated death, and my nerves are a little fried from it.  In Santiago I saw a window where I could escape with my health and no regrets. 

The only nagging doubt was that I could have gone to Ushuaia.  I’ve stated many times that I wasn’t set on it, but when Charlie proposed my flight down there to meet him it was too easy.  The second night in Ushuaia we started contacting shipping agents and scheduling our departure from South America.  Having seen everything I was on a mission to get home for Christmas.  Charlie had to get to LA by January 4th to meet his mom and was in a similar mental state as I; we both decided to drop Andrew off on the 13th and immediately head to Valparaiso to ship the bikes.  My reports have been more infrequent lately for a lot of reasons, mostly because my heart has been at home for much of the last two months rather than on the road.  The last few weeks have been especially quiet though as this return was a surprise to a lot of people in my inner circle.  I’m not a good liar, so I just stopped writing. 

Villa Kunterbunt, our hostel/shipping agent in Valparaiso, did an excellent job organizing the shipment home for the bike as well as crating it up.  I have to say I’m pretty pissed that my bike broke down and had to be towed the final 20 miles of a 20,000 mile trip.  Everyone dreams of dropping that kickstand at the dock at the very end of the trip.  I lowered mine out of a pickup at the port.  Oh well, it’s out of my hands now and should be running within days of when I get it home. 

We met a real cool guy in the hostel.  His name was Bill and he was born in Portland and now lives in Western Australia.  Instantly Charlie and I both had a strong connection to him.  Bill is driving a thirty year-old VW Synchro van throughout South America and presumably as far as he wants after that.  The van was super cool with all the important adventure upgrades.  We had a good night with Bill around the barbeque.  He had some amazing stories and ideas, someone I learned a lot from over just a few beers.

After four nights in Valparaiso taking care of the bikes, Charlie and I took a bus back to Santiago.  Today, Sunday, Charlie flew to LA.  I depart on Tuesday for Vancouver where Alex will pick me up at the airport and drop me off at home to a very surprised family.  The party’s not over, though.  Charlie and I have been brewing a lot more than just getting out of here.  The day after he arrives in LA Charlie will be picking up a German friend named Nina, whom we met in Lima.  From there they will take four days to drive up I-5 and celebrate Christmas morning with the Reuters!  Charlie and Nina will spend a few days in the Pacific Northwest with Alex and me and then drive back to LA to meet his mom. 

Overall I think this story has sewn itself up quite nicely.  This will be the last report for a while.  Someday I’ll do another motorcycle trip.  It will be for a shorter time and I’ll focus more on the riding and less on the partying.  I don’t regret the partying at all; at 24, I’m the youngest person on a bike I’ve met all trip and I’ve had an absolute kickass time.  By the next installment, though, I think I’ll be more into early starts and eating miles.  Until then thanks for reading and go read Alex’s ride report if you haven’t already.  His trip was different but just as wild.  I’m sure he and I will have some new scheme cooking by the time we pull into Lake Stevens on Tuesday.  Now as I fly out, everyone hum the Indiana Jones theme in your heads and imagine that little red line stretching across the tattered brown map from Santiago to Seattle with the 747 fading into view in the skies.  I’m going home.

December 16, 2011

Back in the Saddle (barely)

It's been a busy week since Bariloche.  Andrew and Charlie and I left Argentina and drove to Pucon, Chile last Friday.  It was a tame ride with occasional dirt and plenty of ash.  At one point we drove 20 miles off-course to go see the spewing volcano.  As we should have expected, though, all we could see was ash in every direction.  We were definitely close.  The border crossing was simple and 30 miles beyond that was Pucon.

Pucon is a very nice ski town tucked in the foothills at the base of Mt. Villarica, yet another smoldering volcano down here.  We spent three nights in a posh cabin just off the main street.  For the first time since Mazatlan I had my own room.  With Andrew's trip near the end we were all in the mood to hang low and relax.  We did take a drive up a 4x4 track on Saturday, but were forced to turn around when we came to a bridge haphazardly made out of four logs.  No need to push our luck in a rental car.  Pucon is another place I'd love to come back to.  It's a bit ritzy, but small enough to feel inviting.  A ski hill on a volcano is a new one for me as well.

Monday we made the final 800k push up to Santiago and parked up at the usual hostel for the night.  That evening we cleaned out the Hilux and dropped it back off at the rental dealer.  They weren't happy to see that the truck had 9,000 new kilometers on it over the past month.  Or that we hadn't cleaned the exterior.  But as we all agreed, for the amount they charged for the rental, those are all their problems.  The inspector signed off on its condition and with that we went back to the hostel for a few beers.  It was quite a relief to get rid of that responsibility.

Tuesday morning Charlie and I had plans to go back to Valparaiso.  There is a shipping agent there and we needed details on what it will take to eventually get these bikes home.  There's always been the option of selling to another traveler down here, but the coordination involved has never appealed to me.  The whole point of this trip was to plan nothing and work around nobody.  Plus, more than anything, I like the bike and I can afford to send it home.  Fifty years from now it might be a cool antique to have sitting in the garage, a time capsule of memories.  When we went to leave in the morning our hostel reception had disappointing news.  The only garage key was with the owner across town during rush hour.  We waited two hours for the key to show up; long enough to develop quite a short temper.

Valparaiso is only an hour and a half from Santiago.  Charlie and I hit the freeway at 11:00am, both of us feeling very exposed on the bikes after a month off of them.  We rode timidly, still making good time.  My bike was cruising real smooth down the freeway although backfiring once in a while when I let off the throttle.  Thirty miles from Valparaiso the engine cut out as I was gearing down to stop for a toll booth.  It seemed like it was flooded and after a few minutes poking around with the carb and the choke I had it running again.  I was a little aggravated considering the amount of money I just poured into the bike.

Ten miles after that I was cruising at 75mph and the engine again cut out the second I rolled off the throttle after passing a truck.  I coasted to the shoulder and pulled out my tool set.  I went through every part of the engine which I understand and didn't find any problems.  So with nothing better to do I took the seat and tank off and changed the spark plugs.  The whole operation took a half hour and with the new plugs in the engine turned right over as if nothing had ever gone wrong.  I was going to be very disappointed with myself if spark plugs had been the underlying issue for my last few weeks of developing engine issues.

As it turned out spark plugs weren't the case either.  One mile further down the freeway I was back on the shoulder.  I think I scared some nearby Chileans with the amount of profanity that spilled out my mouth when I first dismounted.  I never got the bike back running.  Charlie and I were both out of ideas so we walked it to the tire shack down the street and found a guy with a truck to take it the last fifteen miles into town.

So that's where we're at now.  Back in Valparaiso a month later and not much has changed.  We're staying at the hostel that specializes in motorcycle shipping and arranging transport early in the next month.  In the meantime I've got plenty of motorcyclists coming through every day to help me get the bike running again.  I think I'll start with the carb and work my way towards the fuel tank.  First I need to charge my battery; it's barely there after begging the electric starter to get it chugging so many times. 

December 8, 2011

Fotos XI

 From Ushuaia the Hamersley bros and I drove north for thirty hours straight to Bariloche, Argentina.  It was a 2,200 kilometer trip with two border crossings and a ferry.  We took a three hour nap in the middle of the night on the side of the road and rolled into town at noon.  It was tiring, but we saved a day and woke up in paradise.  Bariloche is paradise.  All those Caribbean beaches and palm trees were nice, but Bariloche is home away from home.  It's a mountainous area covered in evergreens with vast lakes at the bottom of every valley.  The mountains remind me of Colorado, the trees of Washington, and the lakes of Wisconsin.  I'm certain I'll own property here one day.

We've pulled up in a cabin on one of the lakes and have been relaxing for the last two nights.  Bariloche is a big tourist getaway but it's having a rough season due to a nearby volcano in Chile that has covered the city in ash for the past six months.  The snow caps are all brown and the sky is usually hazy.  There is ash piled up on the shoulder like sand.  From the few clear moments we've had I can say it's the most beautiful place in the world.  There's a ski hill in town for the winter and turquoise water in every direction for the summer.  I could go on and on, but I'd be wasting precious time here.  In the meantime, here are some late photos.

Crossing the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago.  Feels like a long time ago now.
Pulled up on one of the 23 switchbacks for this shot.  There are ski lines everywhere around here.
Mom at Mendoza's nicest park.  There's a rowing club on the lake.
We got swindled into posing with tango dancers, but this picture may have been worth it.
Nature reserve in Buenos Aires.  Just beyond it is the Atlantic.
Looking out across the BA marina.
I never mentioned the Buenos Aires cemetery, but it was amazing.  Every grave was a miniature cathedral.
Congress in Buenos Aires.  One of many buildings just as grand.
At the fish market in Santiago just before Mom flew home.
Meet Andrew in Ushuaia.  Can you tell they're brothers?
Proof that we made it to Ushuaia.  If they sold the Hilux at home, it would be my first purchase when I got back.
The view from our cabin in Bariloche.  Right now I can't even see across the lake due to ash.
Charlie and me looking back on our cabin.
One more night here in Bariloche and then we head north to Pucon, Chile for a couple more nights.  Then it's a one-day drive to Santiago where Andrew flies home and Charlie and I pick up the bikes.  Hard to say what happens after that.  We're working on it right now.

December 3, 2011

End of the Road

After eight months of riding and a three and half hour flight I've finally hit the end of the line: Ushuaia.  It's been a great few days getting down here from Santiago.  I had two nights to kill after Mom left and I spent the entire time either at Subway or right next to the wireless router at my hostel.  I downloaded about 15 gigs of entertainment in two days, enough to keep me going for the duration of the trip.  I also took the bike back to Suzuki on Tuesday and had them install a new horn.  I laughed out loud when they brought it out; it's all chrome with red detailing and about twice the size as my previous.  Probably came off a Grand Vitara.  They had it installed in fifteen minutes and it is loud.  There will be no missing me on the road from here on out.  I plan to honk it as often as possible to make up for lost noise pollution.

Thursday my flight took off early afternoon.  I was chomping at the bit, so excited to get south and continue the journey with my mates.  It was great having Mom down, and good to have her familiarity around for two weeks.  I left the bike parked next to Charlie's at the hostel, sparkling new for when I get back.  My only regret about this part of the trip was missing Torres del Paine.  The Aussie's had just spent the last three days hiking and horseback riding through the park.  Charlie's pictures on facebook looked incredible.  Regardless, you can't see it all, and I haven't.  The boys would pick me up in Punta Arenas and we'd head south for Ushuaia from there.

As luck would have it, though, the skies were crystal clear all afternoon and our pilot decided to fly right over the most recognizable mountain in Patagonia with my window looking out across it.  It was an incredibly exhilarating moment when I peaked up from my movie only to see one of the most alien peaks in the world just below me.  The jagged teeth of Torres del Paine were just as incredible as I had imagined, each spire it's own monolith.  It just hung below for about ten minutes while a stared out the window in disbelief.  Just south was Glacier Grey, one of the classic ice superhighways that fill an entire valley.  I got to see it all from 20,000 feet.  A view money can't buy.  Luck I never imagined to hope for.  The Aussies had to hike in 15 miles to see the peaks; it probably meant more to them, but I was plenty smitten.  Just south of Torres del Paine the Andes petered out for the first time since Colombia and we touched down half an hour later.

Charlie, Andrew, and Greg picked me up in the Hilux right on time and with that we went into town.  The boys already had a room set up and within minutes of dropping my bag on the floor we were into the boxed wine.  It pretty quickly turned into a fast night and the very end found us all in the local casino together.  Andrew and Greg were up big while Charlie and I were reminiscing about the trip and discussing the endless options for the next one.  I would have loved to have slept in until about 3:00pm the next day, but somehow we all managed to pile into the truck by 9:00am.  Punta Arenas had a tsunami drill scheduled for Friday and if we weren't out of town by 10:00am they'd force us to participate.  Just before we pulled out Greg decided to stay behind.  His return flight is from Santiago in a couple days and he decided Punta Arenas was his best bet on actually getting back there.  We said goodbye and got out before the fake wave washed us all away.

It was 180 miserable kilometers to the ferry landing we had to catch.  Heading off along the shore on the way out Charlie spotted some ice burgs.  They really do exist.  We ended up waiting there for two hours when a semi broke down coming up the ramp off the ferry.  It took two other semis strung up like a train to pull him out.  After the twenty minute passage we arrived in Tierra del Fuego.  I didn't really have any expectations for Tierra del Fuego, but I was still surprised to see that it's a desolate wind-swept prairie full of sparse, dry, dead looking vegetation.  We continued south through a lot of sheep herds and eventually crossed back into Argentina.  From there it was another 300k to Ushuaia.  The Argentina section turned was beautiful.  The southern tip is home to a small mountain range.  It's full of waterfalls, rivers, and lakes.  Very colorful and a mountaineer's dream.  It reminded me a lot of Alaska, which make perfect sense.  It's actually a perfect contrast to my Alaskan winter in Fairbanks exactly one year ago.  Instead of three hours of daylight, we're getting three hours of darkness down here.  I'm really glad someone else is up there driving the ice roads right now instead of me.  That was a good place to make money, this is a better place to spend it.

We pulled into Ushuaia at 9:00pm in broad daylight, found a hotel, and crashed real hard real fast.  It had been a long day after a long night.  If it weren't for the sun staying up, I doubt we would have had the energy to make it.   Ushuaia is nothing like I imagined.  I expected hard, dirty port city at the end of a windy spit.  Instead it's tucked in the shadow of the mountains behind it and surrounded with greenery.  The place is teeming with tourism and in the daytime it's warm enough to get around in jeans and a tee shirt.  This morning the three of us went out and toured the main streets.  There's a lot to do here.  Helicopter flights, penguin tours, trips to Antarctica.  For me though, just being here will be enough.  The place isn't cheap and neither is the entertainment.  After eight months of adventure though, the idea of paying for a good time is kind of lost on me.  Charlie and I long ago distinguished ourselves as separate from the tourists.  Cramming into a tour van with ten of them and hearing about the unbelievable first five days of their two week vacation would make my ears bleed.

Andrew flies out on the 13th from Santiago which means we can't stay long.  It's a shame because Ushuaia is wonderful.  It's one of only a handful of places in the last eight months that enchants me.  All the other big cities are nice, but once you've seen the colonial town center, the market and a couple bars, they all start to feel the same.  Ushuaia is raw though, completely different.  You feel adventurous just waking up here.  The similarities to how I felt in Alaska are overwhelming.  You don't have to look at a map to know you're at the ends of the Earth.

The drive back north will be a long one.  We plan to head through El Bolson and Bariloche on the way.  We're planning on two monstrous days behind the wheel to get up there and then a few more to get all the way.  I do wish I had brought the bike down here.  There's a slight sense that I left something unfinished, more like left something behind.  But truthfully I was sick and tired of the ride for a while there and finally I can appreciate it again.  If you ask Charlie, the wind and rain the whole way down would have only broken my spirits further.  And I didn't start in Prudhoe Bay on the bike either.  I flew from Fairbanks to Seattle, rode a bike 20,000 miles to Santiago, and flew to Ushuaia.  It's nearly a mirror image in both hemispheres.  Pole to pole in twelve months; good enough for me.  I think anywhere I go from now on I'll wish I had that bike.  Every time I step on an airplane I'll be wondering how many days it would take to ride to the destination.  That's the feeling I want to be here with.  The bike is the most beautiful method of transportation I've ever encountered.

Today Alex starts a twenty-hour trip home from Buenos Aires, not something I'm looking forward to.  We had a good Skype chat from Santiago and can't wait to hit the road together back in Seattle on the first clear day.  I want to thank everyone for all the comments so far, especially Chief and Rich; it's a good reminder how far I've come.  It's hard to wrap my head around, but tomorrow I head north... for the first time in over a year.