I’ve been devouring every possible resource on long term overland traveling. I read somewhere that a good rule of thumb is to spend a year planning for every year you want to spend traveling. Obviously there are those who can walk away from their life on a whim and have the most wonderful experience, just like there are those who spend years planning down to the most minute detail and have a miserable time. It just felt like a good ballpark for world traveler noobs who are just getting ready to make the leap.
In our case we didn’t deliberately decide on a year to plan, it just happened to work out that way. (I’m not sure if one would consider the 15 years I’ve spent dreaming and trying to convince Mike to take this trip technically counts as “planning”, but I digress.) Mike just happened to say yes in September; that was far too short on notice to plan, get there, and take advantage of the Southern Hemisphere summer this year. Frankly I think that Mike will benefit from having a full year to work through the details, get more comfortable with the idea of leaving for a while, and allow excitement to start outweighing apprehension. Waiting until October 2019 worked out well for our jobs too: the timing lets me work through the busy summer riding season in the Northern Hemisphere, maximizing our savings before we leave, and lets Mike wrap up the shooting season without having to leave in the middle of a show. We have plenty of time to wean our families onto the idea, and to put our “real” life in suspended animation. I don’t think a year of planning will achieve all these goals flawlessly – I’m pretty sure some family members will remain convinced that we’re going to be eaten by cannibals – but we will have a reasonable amount of time for some due diligence.
All sounds perfect, right? Well, I may have left out one tiny detail: I will be competing in the 2019 Iron Butt Rally in June. Yes, I have done it before – this will be my fifth IBR – but that doesn’t mean it’s a cake walk in either preparation or execution. There are some major maintenance tasks and minor modifications that need to be done, and I don’t have a good warm place to do them this winter. I felt fairly confident in my new waypoint handling technique in the 2017 IBR, until I had several major bungles that cost me time and points. Back to the drawing board with that. Then there is the rally itself: Both the start and finish happen to be a pretty good haul from here (not in Iron Butt terms, but in terms of total non-rally travel time), and then there are the two weeks for the rally itself. This is a pretty labor-intensive undertaking, even for experienced rally riders. There’s a reason they only hold it every two years!
And think about this: I am actively planning and prepping for the two absolute polar opposites of motorcycle travel. I’m fine-tuning one bike for maximum efficiency, essentially living on the bike for 11 straight days. I need to minimize fuel stops and time off the bike, make sure everything is in good mechanical condition, and all accessories are operational and optimally arranged for easy use on the fly. I have auxiliary fuel that allows me to ride upwards of 400 miles between fuel stops, and I often do. I’ll be carrying nearly everything I could conceivably change or repair on the side of the road, up to and including a spare stator.
(It happened once. I ended up doing five separate stator changes in a hotel parking lot. Long story, but it was successful and I happened to take second place in that rally. I won’t be caught unprepared for a stator failure again!) I don’t want to be waylaid by a flat tire, broken lever, or damaged wiring if I can fix it on the side of the road and keep rolling. Time is of the essence, so even something as seemingly minor as waiting around for a restaurant meal can really add up over the course of 11 days. I carry almost all the food I will consume during the event, and only the most basic necessities for clothes and hygiene.
Pro Tip: You don’t want to be one of the two dozen unlucky travelers stuck next to a pack of rally riders on a long, crowded ferry ride after eight solid days of rallying. Trust me, you don’t.
Pro Tip #2: Super long line for some rally bonus? Puff out a little bit of that week-old jacket stench and the seas of humanity will part for you. Anyway, you get the idea. I will be living ON the bike, and will do everything I can to eliminate the need for me to be off the bike.
At the other end of the scale is this South American adventure. We will be living off our bikes, but it’s just a small part of the overall trip. The miles will be low and slow, with emphasis on the experience, adventure and community vs. distance, efficiency, and competition. We’ll be carrying our basic personal items and family necessities, but chances are that any one-off needs will be things we can procure on the road. If we have to wait a while to have something shipped in, it’s not going to have the same ramifications as it would in a time-critical rally situation. The idea isn’t to carry everything we could possibly need, just everything we need to be safe and comfortable between bigger cities. We will carry aux fuel, but more to get us across fuel-scarce expanses of Patagonia than to ride from Los Angeles to Mesquite, NV without putting my feet down. While rallying combines my love of motorcycles, puzzles, and competition, this trip will combine my love of motorcycles, family, and expanded horizons. One type of riding is not inherently better than the other; they’re both just very big undertakings with very different parameters. Aside from the motorcycles, they’re different worlds all together.
I’m not going to lie: I’ve been sneaking some peeks at road maps, wondering if I could peel off for an endurance riding certificate while I’m in South America. I’m not a huge certificate collector, but it would be very cool to have certificates from two continents. I already have certificates in the U.S. and Canada; what if I did a certified 1,000 mile day in every country we visit? OK, that might be getting carried away a bit. As much as I’m looking forward to going slow and immersive, I’ll probably have to remind myself more than once that not everything is about endurance riding. Still, though… To find some wonderful little community where my night-owl, late-sleeping family wants to spend a few days relaxing… Mom jams out early to lay down some asphalt… It’ll probably happen at least once. After all, a year is a long time. That is if I can get myself through the next 6 months of brain fry. I’ll be spending that time watching the clock, juggling computer projects, logistical work, and mechanical prep on at least three different vehicles, and generally embracing my love of riding to extremes.