It's Been A While…

It’s been a while. It’s been a while since the last time I started a blog post lamenting that it’d been a while. It’s been a while since we took a serious 180 from our travel plans in order to take part in something far more important: Helping my mom go through, and recover from, a kidney transplant. As many of you know, one of my fellow Iron Butt Rally vets was the incredible human being who had a perfectly good kidney lopped out and gave my mom the gift of a whole new life. That’s not an exaggeration; one of my mom’s dialysis nurses confided in me that my mom likely would not have lived to see another Christmas if not for the transplant. After a whole lot of nail biting and hand wringing, the transplant finally went through on December 18, 2019. Within hours my mom had the blood work of a healthy individual, and within a few weeks it was determined that she was progressing far faster than the average transplant recipient. This truly was a stellar organ donated by a stellar individual.

Making new friends wherever we go!

So that’s the recap; what about an update? We’ve been staying in the San Diego area, helping mom make it back and forth to half a dozen doctors appointments each week, a schedule which was quickly pared down due to her incredible rate of recovery. An intensive post-transplant care regimen which typically extends for three month has been scaled back to just over two. Mom is getting stronger every day and is extremely excited about building a whole new future for herself. In our free time, we’ve been working on finding adventure whenever life puts us. Between homeschooling and becoming a regular at the local library, Monty has been enjoying some of the great museums around the area. She is a big fan of Nick, our neighbor’s horse, and makes a point to bring him a carrot or an apple most days. Malarkey (or Mlark for short) has been stuck to Monty’s side like glue; he has been left in the rain, dropped in the mud, been tossed down slides and launched off swings, stuffed in squirrel holes, and generally been loved to within an inch of his precious little life. He did contract a particularly severe case of tail-biting germs a few weeks back, but Monty was extra careful to keep him tucked away so Grandma didn’t catch his germs and she was able to nurse him back to health with plenty of rest and some good power foods. We went to a wonderfully entertaining and informative presentation just down the road focusing on local raptors and reptiles, and she was the first to volunteer to have a falcon snatch a hunk of meat off her arm. That’s my kid!

In keeping with our wish to give her experiences rather than things, we’d been trying to decide how to best allocate Monty’s Christmas funds. In a stroke of inspiration (pun intended) I enrolled her is swim lessons three days per week. She absolutely loves it! She’s practically a fish already and will spend as much time in the water as possible, she has just never slowed down enough for us to impart the important tidbits required to transform wild flapping through liquid into actual swimming. It’s probably a good thing that her lesson is the last of the day because her poor teach inevitably goes away exhausted, but her exuberance is not a necessarily a bad thing. We were told that her first lesson would involve wading in the shallow end and sprinkling a little water on her head to build trust; that approach was abandoned the moment she executed a grand cannonball entrance by launching herself halfway across the pool. She counts the days between classes and has to be physically removed from the pool at the end of each session so that everyone else can go home, so all in all I think this has turned out to be a great application of Experience Over Things.

I’ve been averaging over 115 miles each week on the local hiking trails, making the most of these warm days and sunny skies. I am also super excited to be riding in an upcoming Asphalt Rats Discovermoto endurance event in Mexico in a couple weeks. I’ve been wanting to take part in an AREM ride for the past few years, but it’s tough to plan and execute a mid-winter escape from South Dakota with any level of confidence. This is going to be a 1,000-mile, 24-hour event with set checkpoints, culminating with a great party in La Paz, so if you’ve ever been interested in riding Baja and earning membership into IBA:Mexico, I definitely recommend checking it out!

Speaking of South Dakota in the middle of winter… I began to ponder. The Discovermoto will involve riding across Baja at night, a situation which would really benefit by an almost comically excessive amount of additional lumens. The FZ1s stock headlights are just so… 2001. The route involves mandatory checkpoints at gas stations, but the distance between the gas stations hovers around 250 miles. With the FZ1s fuel range maxing out right around the 200 mile mark, I would definitely be left sourcing fuel at odd intervals all across Baja. What might be better, I thought, would be some auxiliary fuel and a range in the mid-300s. Also heated gear would be great for those high mountain regions. Redundant GPS units. Lots of plush comfort upgrades, as though I were going to be living on the bike for weeks on end. You know. Like my FJR. Alas, my trusty steed was bedded down for the winter up in snowbound SoDak. Not much one could do about that.

Warm SoCal evening from the comfort of our patio.
Who needs to suffer like this when you can be out on the road, freezing your goody bits off?

Unless… Unless one has impressively minimal comfort requirements and an almost comically excessive level of risk acceptance. I started keeping an eye on the 10-day forecasts until it finally looked like I was going to have a solidly tolerable weather window. Finally, on January 28th (which I believe to be the technical date of Deep Dark Winter) I hit the jackpot. I identified The Opportunity at 7am and by noon I was hurtling across the SoCal desert, assured that things would be getting substantially worse before they got any better. The FZ1 has no provisions for powering heated gear, which is just fine because I’d brought no heated gear. Why would I? We were supposed to be enjoying balmy summer days in the Southern Hemisphere. I’d even sent most of my meager cold weather provisions back home to SD before we knew we’d be wintering in California, so my best defense against the elements involved 7 layers up top and 4 layers on the bottom. And my trademark fingerless gloves. Don’t judge me.

Critical road trip elements in place…

The plan was simple: Jam up to South Dakota in one shot, ducking south below one snow storm and dancing east just ahead of another, arriving frozen but dry. Perform a little mid-winter/pre-season service on the FJR, then depart in the anticipated and unseasonably warm mid-60s temps, arriving back in San Diego just ahead of the impressive blizzard conditions projected to be blanketing roughly 2/3 of the country by trips end. I labeled my Spotwalla “SD>SD>SD Insanity”. It wasn’t going to be a pleasure cruise, but with just a little luck I’d be able to pull it off. I was traveling light: I carried only the layers I planned to wear (consisting of nearly every article of clothing I had with me in San Diego, along with a few graciously donated by my mom) and a small bag of things to jettison in SoDak. The sun was far past the horizon by the time I crossed the middle of Arizona, so I stopped to don the few remaining layers I’d packed away. By the time I hit Albuquerque, I was staring down dry roads and plummeting mercury. I finally acquiesced to the siren song of full-fingered gloves ahead of Santa Fe, where I saw temps hovering around 12*F before windchill. I seriously thought about pulling the plug and getting a motel room, but the timing was just too tight. If I stopped for more than a couple hours I would be in the direct path of the oncoming snowstorm. Even if I stopped for only a couple hours, I would be too far outside of the Black Hills before night fell on Wednesday, leaving me mired down in a dangerously icy storm in sub-freezing temps. In other words, stopping for one night would mean I’d be stuck for at least two, possibly more. I would rather deal with cold but dry, I decided, so I soldiered on.

It seemed like a reasonable idea on paper.

By the time I hit Raton, I was in need of some serious thawing out. I did something I rarely do on a road trip, which is eat a real breakfast. I was the only customer in the Denny’s ahead of sunrise and as I dragged myself into a booth, too cold to remove even my jacket, I was treated to a wall of gaping stares which practically spelled out “W. T. A. F…” I nursed a nice sizzling veggie skillet – enough to warm me up without dragging me down – and more than a few good, hot cups of decaf. Decaf because I saw no sense in condemning myself to hourly bathroom breaks, since my frozen fingers sure as heck weren’t up to the task of rapidly extricating me from many cumbersome layers of gear in any sort of hurry. Warm was good enough for me. Reaching around the table, even after sitting in a warm restaurant for over an hour, I could feel noticeably frigid tendrils of trapped air puffing out of my coat. When the time finally came to saddle up, the FZ1 was sporting a solid layer of heavy frost. Sigh. It was going to get worse before it got better.

Aw, c’mon… It wasn’t THAT cold…

From Raton things were actually fairly tolerable for a while. The temps crept up into the mid-30s as I peeled off onto smaller back roads, allowing me to relax into the ride a little more. It was just shy of the Nebraska border when the slushy sleet started to fall. The last 300 miles of my 1,700 mile route were all wet, windy, salty and generally less-than-ideal. Three hundred miles of head shakes, double-takes, and looks of mixed astonishment and pity as I made my final decent into Rapid City. I hadn’t seen another motorcycle since western Arizona, and I’m pretty sure nobody else up there had seen a bike on the road in months. The amount of road salt and general mung I uncovered in my MotoJug at the end of this leg of the ride actually made me incredibly grateful that it was just too darn cold to worry about proper hydration.

<shudder>

I had indulged visions of soaking for hours in a near-molten bath, alternately sipping hot soup and a hot tottie until my core temperature once again approached that of the living. Unfortunately I had a to-do list as long as my arm and a very limited amount of time to accomplish it all if I hoped to hit that predicted glorious weather on my way out of town. Stuff to shuffle into and out of our storage facility, not the least of which included every bit of heated gear I own. If you’ll recall, back in October my FJR and I wrapped up a trip to Ohio one afternoon and the FZ1 and I departed for Nevada the next, leaving me no time to properly assess or prep the FJR for this scenario, even if I had anticipated a mid-winter retrieval. This being the case, I’d asked my buddy Eric to lay eyeballs on the FJR for me so I could have any and all required service parts ordered in and awaiting my arrival. I was already aware of a small water pump leak following the Iron Butt Rally, so I’d ordered in everything to do that job back in October so they’d be waiting for me when we returned home. There had been several items on backorder for months, so it was just a stroke of luck that the full parts order had been delivered just a few weeks ago. It was just a minor leak, but with all the parts in hand, smart money was on doing the repair now, at home, while I had resources at my disposal, rather than waiting until Minor inevitably became Major on the side of some desolate highway.

RIP, impeller. You have served me well.

I’d left SoCal mid-day Tuesday and arrived in SoDak on Wednesday evening. The following two days were a flurry of fine mechanical work in an unheated carport with temps stubbornly refusing to leave the 30s; my long-enduring 265,000-mile water pump was rebuilt without incident; engine & final drive oils changed; installation of a new battery and correction of niggling electrical accessory issues; delivering fancy beers to one buddy for bike eyeballing services rendered and introducing another the world’s best smoked short ribs. (Seriously, if you EVER have a chance to hit JR’s Rhodehouse BBQ in Black Hawk, SD, DO IT! And by “a chance” I mean if you’re passing anywhere closer than Chicago, DO IT! If you like meat, trust me when I say you won’t be disappointed.) I also had to source a couple obscure cables which had gone missing from my long-disregarding heated gloves because, although I’m a fingerless kinda girl, I was forced that concede that if kept it up much longer I was going to be a literally fingerless girl. With an incredible stroke of luck, the cable I needed happened to match a style used by Harley Davidson brand gear in 2004. What were the odds? It was with great enthusiasm and a bit of lingering numbness in my phalanges that I purchased the two required cables, cables whose battered packages told the tale of dozens upon dozens of hopeful unstaplings followed by unceremonious returns to their distant corner of the peg wall. Trophies in hand, the chores continued: Tax paperwork gathered, downloaded, copied, collated. Annual physical because, hey – as long as I’m this close to my regular doc, I may as well. Ensuring that tools and service items packed for the FZ1 were exchanged for those required for the FJR. Tires inflated, fresh TPMS batteries installed, test ride, and ready to rock.

World’s Best Meat Lollipop: No sides or utensils required.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, as my slushy synapses began to regain full firepower, I started mulling over how close I was to the Canadian border. I was in a state that is touching a state that is touching Canada. By that standard, I was practically already in the Great White North. I would be returning to my home-away-from-home within spitting distance of Mexico, and with the unseasonably warm weather being predicted… Hmmm… An Iron Butt Border-to-Border ride on an impressively inefficient route in the middle of winter would be an entertainingly absurd way to approach my return trip. Why not? I did some poking around in my free time, but I just couldn’t quite make it work. I would still have to plan around a very tight weather window if I hoped for a clean escape. The nearest Canadian border crossing had very limited operating hours in the winter and the town closest to the border offered very little hope of sourcing the requisite witnesses and computer-generated starting receipt. The nearest 24-hour border crossing was just far enough in the wrong direction to render an already difficult ride attempt into something that would be darn near impossible. I wasn’t on a mission specifically to execute a B2B, after all; I’d just been hoping to shoehorn a B2B somewhere into my existing ride plans. Not to be deterred, a new idea was concocted which was arguably just as silly, twice as fun, and substantially warmer. I’m not quite ready to divulge the details just yet, but it was executed successfully as envisioned and is likely just the start of a series of related endeavors.

Thank you, road-weary FZ1. You have served me well.

Ah, the FJR. Like an old glove, she is just the perfect fit. What an incredible feeling to be reunited with my great old friend. After 1,700 sub-freezing, naked-bike miles, my ginormous V-Stream windscreen was like heaven. After four months with a cable-clutch bike as my only form of transportation, a hydraulic clutch made me feel like She-Ra. Feeling the joy of full stereo audio at a reasonable volume. Wired for heated gear and big miles and maximum comfort. Just… perfect. Ready for anything. I departed Rapid City on Saturday morning, lamenting that the high 60-degree weather had not quite materialized but grateful for the relatively tolerable temps in the low 50s. I was going to be staging my certified ride out of Colorado Springs and I’d looked at a few possible routes for getting from here to there. One path looked compelling simply because I didn’t already know it like the back of my hand, but it included a good $20 in toll roads. Nah, pass. That left I-25 down through Wyoming or essentially retracing the path I’d taken into town three days earlier. Facing the potential for icy, twisty mountain roads and other non-moto-friendly conditions, I opted for the devil I knew and pointed myself due south across Nebraska. I began regretting the choice less than 40 miles out of town when ferocious winds made the ride difficult and dangerous, even on my most faithful steed. It didn’t subside until well into Colorado, but it turned out that the winds along I-25 and I-80 were violent enough to flip quite a few tractor trailers, so all things considered I think I fared pretty well.

Totally worth it.

Sunday in Colorado Springs finally hit the low 70s, the glorious t-shirt weather rendering the ride up an oddly distant memory. I didn’t leave right away though, instead enjoying a relaxing afternoon in the warm sun before finally departing for points south later that evening. Two days later, Colorado Springs was several degrees below zero. Many schools and roads saw closures in my wake. Even El Paso saw 2” of snow just after I passed through. Yet somehow, I arrived back in San Diego after what turned our to be a relatively pleasant ride. My careful choreography allowed me to scoot south and west around the encroaching storm. Even the small but apparently unavoidable patch of rain didn’t amount to any noteworthy discomfort. A bit of a sandstorm around Imperial Dunes, heated gear optimistically removed at 60 degrees only to have temps dip back down to the 30s; really nothing out of the ordinary. A gloriously uneventful end to a ridiculously entertaining 3,700-mile winter bike swap.

Best seat in the house 🙂

With that out of the way, what’s next? My immediate future, now that I’ve regained the requisite dexterity in my fingers, involves a valve inspection on the FJR and, after winding up with a crankcase full of gas, tearing into the carbs on the Bandit. I’m just a couple weeks away from the Asphalt Rats Discovermoto Rally, and you could be too if you head on over to their website and sign up now!

Hands down, the most adorable way to lose tools.

The irony is not lost on me that I just rode the FZ1 1,700+ miles through the night with stock headlights, battered by freezing sleet in less-than-appropriate gear, and battling frustratingly lackluster fuel range across large expanses with limited gas, with the express goal of not having to spend 1,000 miles riding through the night with stock headlights, facing cold weather without appropriate winter gear, or struggling with lackluster fuel range. It made perfect sense on paper. We are helping mom come up with a game plan for her new life, likely to involve lots of travel, adventure, catching up with old friends and making new ones. We are still regrouping to see what our post-SoCal ride is going to entail. We’re tossing around the idea of exploring Central America, but we’ll see how our timeline and budget looks by the time all is said and done. In the meantime, no matter what happens, we’ll continue to tackle life’s hurdles and surprises head-on and seek adventure wherever we find ourselves.

Yes indeed. What fun is it to do things the easy way?

-Wendy

Where are we now?

It’s been a month since our last update, and it’s been quite the interesting ride. In summary, we’re still in Southern California. It’s interesting, sitting here two months into our projected travel window and nowhere near where we envisioned ourselves being. A year ago I sat writing blog posts pondering how people managed to embark on protracted journeys, how “they” – all these smiling adventurers we see on our computer screens – put their real lives on pause and plan, fund, and execute their meanderings. The more entrenched we are in living The Script, the more difficult it becomes to pry ourselves away and take on something incredible. Sometimes though, it’s not sticking to The Script that throws a wrench in the adventure activation plan, but those wildly unpredictable plot twists that keep you on your toes.

We knew we were going to have a bit of a layover in California for a few reasons. Of course, we had a ton of friends and family to visit back in our old stomping grounds. Mike had some work obligations in Hollywood, and I was finally able to make it to the famous annual NoPolio fundraiser event in Folsom. Montessa turned 5 in October and we’ve been encouraging friends and family to think “experiences” rather than “things” when giving gifts, especially since we have an extremely finite amount of space in the sidecar for things. And what experience is more SoCal for a 5 year old girl than Disneyland? Yes, we did it. We bit the bullet and took our fearless, princess-obsessed daughter, along with her two favorite people in the world – her cousins – to Disneyland for a day. We kept our plans secret from Monty, so right up until we arrived at the front entrance to the park, she thought we were just giving her cousins a ride home. We hit the park on a weekday in the off-season, so it actually was a fairly pleasant experience for everyone. Talk about polar extremes of trip experiences: from bare-bones, basic-necessities-only to the epitome of material excess. Thank you to everyone who pitched in to give Monty an amazing day that will stick with her for years to come.

How to know when you’ve had a successful day at Disneyland

But Disneyland is just a single day out of the six weeks that we’ve been milling about the region. Subtract time for hiking, visiting, speaking, wandering, working, and so on, and we still have a good few weeks of travel time to account for. It’s not especially glamorous, but we have been spending most of that time helping my parents get ready for a big move. They’ve lived in their giant house for 20 years, but life has dictated that it’s time to downsize. They have many years of accumulated things to sort, pack, sell, donate, toss, and otherwise process. We’ve all been there. When we moved from Kernville to South Dakota, we were leaving a house we’d lived in for 14 years as well as paring down and packing up a business we’d operated for nearly as long. We can handle the logistics and manpower of moving, which is especially important because my mom’s health prevents her from contributing significantly in the manpower department.

Cousins: Best kind of manpower, best kind of buddies!

As many of you know, my mom’s kidneys failed a few years ago and she has been struggling to maintain on dialysis. To add injury to insult, a recent fall resulted in three broken vertebrae and even further diminished her ability to even exist comfortably, let alone function normally day-to-day. We don’t have any viable kidney donors in our immediate family, so while she has been on the National Donor Registry our real hope has been to find a living donor. We’ve had an amazing number of selfless individuals come forward for testing – many have reached out to me, and I’m sure there are many who have gone through the process anonymously – all of whom are heroes of the highest order in my book. To be willing to give away an organ for a relative stranger, even to be willing to go through the lengthy and sometimes arduous matching process, knowing the odds of a match are slim; it’s hard to put that kind of selflessness into words. And from one of those indescribably selfless individuals, we have received some unexpectedly incredible news: A match. An “ideal match” according to the test results, a perfect kidney. The gift of life. My mind is swirling, especially having watched my mom suffer and deteriorate over the past few years. Needless to say, Mom is absolutely over the moon. It tentatively looks like mid-December might be the transplant date, the beginning of her road to recovery.

So this brings me back to a year ago, pondering how people manage to release themselves from the “real” lives and take their personal show on the road. The answer I’ve found is, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes “real” life, the people you love and the exceptional situations that present themselves, must take precedent. There are very few things that are important enough to send us on a detour from our planned adventure, but you only have one mom. I feel lucky to be in a position to help, lucky to be able to support her in this life-changing circumstance. And so we put our adventure life on hold temporarily while we navigate this fantastic (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime situation. The great part of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants travel is that we’re not actually giving up anything, we’re not missing anything, we’re just open to life’s road and seeing what happens next. If that means our travels only take us through Central America on this round, so be it. We will make another opportunity to travel further south and when that time comes, with a little luck, my mom will be the first person to warn us that we’re going to be eaten by headhunters. Love you Mom!

-Wendy

Know When to Fold ’em

It would be so easy to undertake this trip in a van. We could easily carry everything we needed to be comfortable and self-sufficient. We would have fewer concerns about safety and security on the road, especially when we’re off on an adventure away from the vehicle. We could easily sleep in a van when we’ve found that amazingly perfect spot, but it’s too cold or wet to bother with a tent. We could charge all of the gadgets and doo-dads we’d need to keep us entertained and on our pre-determined path. Cruising in climate-controlled luxury. Best of all, overlander rigs are a dime a dozen all across South America. We could pick any destination we fancy, and I guarantee that within a week we’d be the proud new owners of an appropriate vehicle that fits our budget. Absolutely no international vehicle shipping required. Maybe… maybe just a nice little van…

Photo by Mikel Ibarluzea on Unsplash

But you know what else comes with a cage? Insulation. Isolation. You don’t really smell the ocean spray or the freshly cut fields. You don’t feel the rain or the warmth of the sun. You pass over the road as a means to an end, instead of really experiencing the road as an integral part of your journey. You close yourself off, intentionally and unintentionally, to interactions with other people. Simply being in an enclosed vehicle, especially as a family unit, makes people less inclined to approach you. As a result, you’re less likely to hear about that incredible road-less-traveled, that little gem that only the locals know about. But possibly the most critical thing missing from a caged journey? The community. There is simply nothing in the world like the motorcycle community. I can’t imagine taking a trip of this magnitude without the motorcycle community being an integral part of it, both because of how important it is to me and because I want Monty to fully experience it for herself. This is truly the best community in the world.

Case in point: My last blog post. I was (am) at my wits end trying to come up with a shipping option for getting the sidecar rig (at bare minimum) to South America. I ran through the full-picture drama in that post, but the Cliff’s Notes version is that nobody really wants to deal with vehicle export from the USA. We make life difficult, apparently, and nobody wants to willingly subject themselves to that. Cue the Amazing Motorcycle Community! Within hours of that blog going live, I had literally dozens of messages from friends and followers offering help and suggestions. Some provided contact information for freight forwarders or transport services that they had used. Others offered to put me in touch with contacts in other regions – friends, business associates, experienced travelers – who might be able to help. Still others offered up ideas for approaches that I might not have thought of. That’s why I love this community! Even though I’m not sitting on the side of the road with a flat tire, riders saw another rider in need of assistance and jumped right in.

So through the power of love and brotherhood, we solved our transport troubles and are excitedly planning all the other aspects of our journey, right? Um… not so fast. Turns out I didn’t just have a flat tire, I had a massive blowout with no tire shops in sight. I submitted for a bunch of quotes to fly the bikes between North and South America, based on recommendations of friends and fellow travelers (albeit from transactions that happened a number of years ago); I received a New Record High Quote of $8,000 to fly both bikes from Los Angeles to Chile. No problem; we’re just as happy to ride up to Canada and fly down from there. Canada on the whole is far more amenable to facilitating (or at least not impeding) international vehicle transport, and we do love the heck out of Canada. Air Canada doesn’t have any routes into South America on their Fly Your Bike program, but they can still fly motorcycles as regular cargo. I approached them for information and, not to be outdone, they quickly provided me with a New Record High Quote of $9,600 to fly both bikes from Toronto to Bogota. We’re Number One! (sigh.) It seems the harder I work, the more research I do to make sure I’m providing all the right information in the right way, the higher the price tag is getting.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

It’s time to come at this from a different angle, so we’re mulling over a number of different options. The US is a bust and Canada doesn’t seem to be any cheaper. Or at least, it’s not cheaper to South America. Just for interest sake I also asked Air Canada to quote transport to Glasgow, Scotland. Glasgow IS on the Fly Your Bike program and we also have family in Scotland. Turns out we could get both bikes to Europe for under $2,500 out the door. At that rate, it would be substantially cheaper to fly the bikes to Scotland, explore for a while, then ship from Europe back to South America. At least then we’d get some cool adventure for our money rather than just tossing $10k directly down the drain. Another possibility would be to go South to fly South. We could ride down through Mexico and fly out of Mexico City or Merida, or possibly ship out of Cancun. Mike isn’t nearly as apprehensive about riding Baja California (or as he called it, Southern Southern California), and from there it’s an easy ferry ride across the Sea of Cortez then a quick zip across mainland Mexico. Piece of cake, right? Maybe?

Then again, if we’ve already broken that Central America seal, why not just keep going? There are two reasons why we were not planning to ride through Central America: First, Mike didn’t feel like it was safe. It took me so long to talk him into South America that Central America was a concession I was more than willing to make. So what has changed? Believe it or not, Mike was actually the one to suggest riding down through Mexico and shipping from there. I think he’s actually getting pretty enthusiastic about this trip, and doesn’t want to see it derailed before it starts. He’s willing to make some concessions to make it happen. I gently presented to idea of the yacht cruise and he said “Why the heck aren’t we doing that?!?!” Because that option requires us to get ourselves to Panama. “Well,” he replied, “you talked me into South America.” A little glimmer of hope, perhaps? I think maybe the myriad of travelers saying “My only regret about Central America was not having more time to enjoy it” just might be starting to sway his opinion a tiny bit.

The second consideration was that, at the time, it seemed to be nearly the same price to ship from the US to South America as it was to ship around the Darien Gap. Once you’re in Panama, they know they have you over the tourist barrel. There is really no reasonable away around The Gap aside from shipping or flying; you can easily get sucked into a mire of surprise fees, shipping delays, paperwork struggles, bribe attempts, and language barriers. And once again, the sidecar really throws a wrench in the works. It’s definitely a lot harder to just show up and hope to sneak in on a shipment with the sidecar, especially based on the number of “We don’t handle sidecar” replies I’ve received on transport inquiries. It just seemed so much easier to handle everything in the US and arrive in South America ready to roll. But that was before, and this is now.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

To recap, what are some of the options around The Gap? We could fly, which is the fastest and typically has the fewest surprises. We could share a container, which is the cheapest but also the slowest, with the highest probability for delays and added costs. There are any number of countries and ports/airports where we could depart from, depending on how far we wanted to ride. Travelers often report flying their bike and themselves from Central America to Colombia for around $1,000, but then again I’ve heard people say they got an entire container out of the US for $2,600, so I’m taking all these numbers with a big ol’ grain of salt.

And there is another option around the Darien Gap: Yacht cruise. No, I’m not joking. Sailing along with your bike on an island-hopping vacation-within-a-vacation is actually a very popular choice for motorcycle travelers. They load up you and your bike, feed you glorious meals, stop for snorkeling around little desert islands, and deliver you fat, relaxed and happy to the port in Columbia. Depending on which company you select, either all or most of the fees and expenses are included in the price of the trip. It’s not nearly the cheapest option, but at $3,300 for an all-inclusive four-day cruise for three people and two bikes, it’s not nearly our most expensive option either. (That $10k quote for Air Canada is going to be hard to top.) The down side is that our travel schedule had put us in the area of Uruguay in early October. If we’re just hitting Central America in October, we’ll be arriving right in time for hurricane season. A lot of the ships start rolling in their sails at that time, so we’d either have to leave home much earlier than planned or come up with a different option.

So, yeah. We’re still at an impasse. We’re not paying $8,000 to get our bikes to South America. I wouldn’t be thrilled about paying half that. I would sooner pay $2,500 to ship the sidecar, then just buy a second bike down there. I gave a good overview of that option in the last blog too, so if you haven’t read that one yet, head over there to see all the pros and cons of buying down there. What happens if we can’t come up with any palatable options? Then plans need to change. Europe is an possibility that neither of us are opposed to, but the cost of traveling around Europe will definitely shorten the duration of our adventure. Asia is a possibility too; Mike has traveled around Thailand, but I’ve never been to Asia. Or what about… staying a little closer to home?

A big wrench in the works is if we stay anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, with an October departure date, winter will be upon us. This past October we had some solid weeks of freezing rain in South Dakota. We’d have to head south pretty quickly, and that’s assuming that the weather treats us well for our departure plans. If we’re leaving from the US and heading south through Mexico and Central America, we should be in good shape weather-wise (assuming we can dodge any hurricanes.) So what if we were to explore around Central America through spring, then head back north to explore Canada and the US? I know I said that we didn’t need a year to explore North America because it is so more accessible than South America; when I said that, I didn’t realize that South America was virtually impenetrable from here. It is also much more expensive to embark on extended travel around North America, but by avoiding expensive shipping we will have that much more to spend. I would be extremely disappointed to give up on my South American dreams (for the time being) but I don’t want to entirely miss out on the opportunity to travel before Monty starts school. I also don’t want to tank our family financially by plowing ahead with a “nothing money can’t fix” attitude.

Photo by Arto Marttinen on Unsplash

I sent out some new quote requests today. I still have a few friends putting out feelers for us. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling pretty defeated. Persistence, in this case, only seems to be making things worse for both my stress levels and shipping quotes. Pending receipt of these last few quotes, I’ve pretty well exhausted all my resources. While I was writing this, I received an email from my last yacht-cruise option with the news that they don’t accommodate sidecars. I’d happily buy a couple cheap bikes in South America if finding a sidecar was a reasonable expectation. I’ve done my due diligence and come back with nil. So what does the future hold for Third Wheel Adventures? Only time will tell…

-Wendy

One step forward…

This week’s blog is going to be relatively short because I simply don’t have enough hours in the day. I keep telling myself that I need to relax, that we’re far enough out from kickstands-up that some aspects of the planning might just have to wait. Handle what I reasonably can handle now, and attack some of the finer details later.

Unfortunately there are a few major things that I just can’t let go of. Primarily, I really REALLY feel like I need to firm up some idea of how the bike shipping is going to work, but it just isn’t coming together for me. Plane? Container? RoRo? Give up and just buy down there? I’ve made a dozen phone calls, sent out easily three times that many emails, and still… nothing. I’m getting very few acknowledgments to my inquiries and even fewer shipping quotes. The quotes that I have received are about double what I’d anticipated. And that’s not just some wild number I pulled out of the air; I’m getting quoted double what other people are being quoted for similar travels right now. I just can’t catch the right person on the right day, or I’m not asking the right questions, or… I’m not sure what the problem is. It’s very possible that we’re simply too far out to get a firm quote, or for the shipping agents to be too enthusiastic about helping. I fill out lengthy forms with VINs and dimensions; I supply our desired travel dates, points of departure and arrival, but also include that we’re highly flexible on all of those points. It’s hard to tell if people are interpreting “flexible” as “non-committal”, but honestly I’m hoping to catch that one agent who will reply “Those ports are good, but we can save you $500 and a week of shipping time if you ship through these ports.”

I’ve even been seriously contemplating just buying a bike (or both) in South America. Our requirements are meager – as it is, we’re planning on traveling with bikes whose value will probably be equal to or less than the cost of shipping them down there. We will probably sell the bikes in South America rather than pay to ship them home (unless I can con Mike into crossing the Darien Gap on the northbound part of the journey, in which case we’ll just ride them home).

There are just a few big concerns preventing me from throwing caution to the wind and trying to find bikes when we get there. First, there is potential difficulty with paperwork and border crossings. Some countries are better than others but in most countries, as a tourist, you’re not able to actually put the vehicle into your name. You need to carry what is essentially a power of attorney where the titled owner gives you permission to cross borders with their vehicle. Getting all the paperwork in order can be expensive and time-consuming, and even then there is no guarantee that everything will work smoothly. I often see where travelers are stuck at a border crossing because some “I” is not dotted or a “T” is not crossed. My next concern is the inability to fully mechanically vet the bikes ahead of time, and be prepared with vehicle-appropriate luggage and a reasonable amount of spare/service parts. I don’t need to go too wild on this point, but it’d be nice to know roughly how we’ll be packing the bikes, what size of spare master link and chain adjustment tools we’ll need to carry, and have a couple spare levers or whatever.

The last, and biggest, issue is the ability to find a sidecar rig. I’ve made inquiries and from what I hear, they are even fewer and further between than they are in the States. We would be taking a serious risk by flying down there without having a rig already lined up. We’d be randomly picking a place to fly into and just hoping to find a hack within a reasonable distance, within a reasonable amount of time, for a reasonable price, and in safe, comfortable and mechanically sound condition. Literally the two most important things in my entire world will be on that bike, and the three of us will essentially be living off the bike for a year. I don’t want to be settling for something sub-par simply because the pickings are slim.

Photo by REVOLT on Unsplash

I’ve come across some well-reviewed places that specialize in selling bikes to tourists. They handle all the paperwork so the vehicle is actually titled in your name, not just using a power of attorney. They go through the bike thoroughly to make sure it’s safe, serviced, and ready to rock. They install any accessories you want, such as saddlebag racks, taller handlebars, wide footpegs, etc, before you arrive. All you have to do is sign the title, hop on, and go. They’ll even buy the bike back if you want to sell it at the end of your trip. The only hitch is, once again, the sidecar. Everyone I’ve communicated with is pretty confident that they wouldn’t be able to find a sidecar rig for us “in the wild”. We’ve had one shop offer to build us a rig, but they want us to purchase a bike from them ahead of time and we’d be left hoping that the sidecar they built was up to our standards. And that’s not an unreasonable requirement, really, except that the bikes they’re selling that would be suitable for a sidecar are all newer and in the $12,000 range. We’re not looking to invest anywhere near that much, especially because they say there won’t be much resale demand for a sidecar rig down there. Plowing that much money into a custom-built hack with low odds of selling it at the end of the trip? That quite thoroughly defeats the purpose of trying to circumvent the expense and hassle of shipping.

Photo by Hennie Stander on Unsplash

I’m honestly warming to the idea of just shipping the sidecar and buying a second bike down there. There are always other travelers selling their bikes, often from the US. Transferring a US bike into our names would be way less hassle (in theory) but still take some time and effort. Plus if we had the sidecar, it would still be possible for the three of us to get around until we picked up another bike (as awkward though that would be. We’d have to arm wrestle to figure out who’d be the passenger. Monty would probably win, and she doesn’t have a motorcycle license yet.) I’d also be happy to buy a little dual sport from one of the specialty shops, with the benefit of a guaranteed buy-back at the end of the trip. But then the question remains: Who the heck is going to help us get the sidecar to South America?!?

I’ll be writing a separate blog about “information overload” but suffice to say I have reached out to a number of the resources I have at my disposal, and I’m finding that shipping from the US is just plain difficult. It’s expensive, there’s lots of red tape, and many carriers just don’t want to deal with us. We may end up having to find a way across the Darien Gap or buying a bike down there, because I’m just about exhausted with this endeavor already. I put out a few feelers today and got two new leads, so I’m off to compose a few emails. Wish me luck. And in the meantime, please enjoy this picture of the mountains of Peru courtesy of Montessa.

-Wendy

Interview: Adventure Kid!

Montessa is getting really amped up about everything having to do with our trip. She loves looking at pictures of South America, pouring over maps, and working on her Spanish. She also loves pitching in on our blog content. Unfortunately her passion for storytelling surpasses her ability to transcribe those tales in a format that is understandable by… well, pretty much anyone. But she sure does love pulling up a blank Word document and pounding away on the ol’ keyboard. Which, now that I think about it, really describes my creative process as well. Anyhow, Montessa was very clear that she wanted to write her OWN interview, so I let her write her answers on the laptop while I translated for her on the desktop. Here it is: Montessa’s very first Adventure Kid interview!

Wendy: How do you feel about our trip to South America?

Montessa: Happy about seeing new people and being with you and daddy.

W: What are you most excited about?

M: Spending time with you and daddy.

W: Are you looking forward to seeing or doing certain things?

M: Swimming and going to new hotels. And swimming at new swim places. Making sure everyone stays with me that I love, and visiting people in their society. (I have no idea where she picked that up!) There are more things that I want to do than staying in a hotel too.

W: What other kinds of things?

M: Making sure our pets are having a fun time at home, and also swimming in new swim places. (I’m sensing a theme…)

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W: Do you think anything will be weird or scary?

M: No, just weird.

W: What’s going to be weird?

M: Spending time with you. (Can’t argue with that.)

W: What kinds of animals do you think we’ll see down there?

M: Elephants, giraffes, monkeys and little-sized elephants.

W: What about birds?

M: Yes, birds and elephants. (I’ve never mentioned seeing elephants in South America, yet I feel like we’re somehow setting her up for disappointment with regards to our anticipated interactions with animals…)

W: What kinds of birds?

M: Animal birds.

W: Like maybe flamingos?

M: Uh-huh. And giraffes.

So long as we don’t have to battle with Satan’s avians.

W: Are you excited about doing so much sidecar riding?

M: Yes!

W: What do you like most about riding in the sidecar?

M: Being with my family.

W: Do you like it better than riding in the car?

M: Uh-huh.

W: Why?

M: Because it’s so cool!

W: How are your Spanish lessons coming?

M: Good.

W: Can you tell me something in Spanish?

M: Hola! Soy Montessa!

W: Hola Montessa! Soy Wendy.

M: Hola Wendy! Buenos noches!

W: Muy bien mi hija! Do you have anything else to share about South America?

M: I want to ride on an airplane because we can sleep on an airplane (definitely her dad’s kid.)

W: What about camping? Are you excited about camping?

M: Uh-huh, because we can camp any place that’s beautiful.

W: What do you want to say to all the people who are reading your story?

M: Good main and I hope you have a good season!

I did confirm (twice) that she said “Good main.” I don’t know what that means. Let’s just all start using that and make it mean something awesome. So there you have it, folks – Montessa’s first South American interview! Good Main y’all!

Sidecar Crew Update

Preparations are slowly coming together. Wendy put some amazing time and effort into getting our website, ThirdWheelAdventures.com, up and ready for our posts, I spent a minuscule amount of time getting our Instagram account up and running, then looking through 10 years of downloaded photos to find some of our best shots. Monty has spent an equal amount of time wearing us down with her four year old, Christmas vacation mischief. Monty and I did manage to bust out the sidecar from its winter storage to rack up some miles and grab some reference photos of the rig for our graphic designer. This kid loves riding in this thing so much, she didn’t want to put it away even though a South Dakota blizzard was breathing down our necks.

Photo work done, its back to preparing our extensive lists of tools, equipment, camping gear, not to mention a couple changes of clothes and all the other stuff that needs to fit on two bikes and a side hack. I’m still researching video equipment but I’m resigned to waiting until closer to D-Day to pull the trigger on cameras. That way we’ll either be getting good discounts on year-old tech or getting the cream of the crop.

We will need to pack the bikes and try some moto-camping trips once the South Dakota winter breaks in a few months. As has been stated by Wendy, I am not really built to sleep on the ground. It seems that I’m related to the adorably sensitive princess and the pea, with a delicate disposition and a very strong desire to be comfortable. In all honesty, between sleep apnea and insomnia I do have some pretty serious sleep issues, so being comfortable on the ground is really one of my primary concerns for this trip. Making sure I can find a way to sleep on the ground without a whole bunch of unnecessary gear is a big priority for me, so we’ll be trying out our gear – new, new-to-us, and/or long unused – several times before we commit to a setup. It’s got to be comfortable, pack small, and allow us to take full advantage of all the nooks and crannies on the sidecar. We’ll only have room for a couple extra large items, and a king size air mattress probably won’t make the cut.

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That’s it for now. Seeing Monty’s enthusiasm for spending all that time together is starting to help ease my tension, but we have a long way to go before departure. A lot of work, a lot of planning, and a lot of worrying are between here and there, but I’m doing my best to contribute to making this trip an incredible family adventure.

-Mike