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.