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.
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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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.
W: Are you excited about doing so much sidecar riding?
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: Because it’s so cool!
W: How are your Spanish lessons coming?
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!
I was geared up, in the zone, and everything was going great. Perfect weather, fantastic roads, no traffic – in other words, it was a dream ride. I was flawlessly executing my winning rally plan, picking off one bonus stop after another and feeling on top of the world. It had been a long day and now, with the moon as my only company, I was fully relaxed into the zen of the road. I pulled up at another high value bonus location, snapped my picture, noted my time and… was there something else? It seemed like there should be something else. I decided to flip through my rally book and double check the bonus requirements, just to be safe. I nailed the picture, no question there. Time: Done. Mileage: … Mileage? Mileage?!? Oh. Crap. Oh, crap crap crap. I started furiously flipping back through my bonus log. I didn’t have mileage noted for ANY of my bonus stops! How could I be so stupid?!? Could I recreate this information using my current mileage and my starting mileage? How long would that take? Should I just press on to the finish line and try to fix it before I hit the scoring table? Where else had I screwed up? How could I make such an epic rookie mistake?!? Heck, this wasn’t even a rookie mistake; this was a straight up nightmare!
I woke up in a cold sweat to find Monty poking me and asking if I was alright. Apparently I’d woken her up when I was yelling in my sleep. Whoa… Rally nightmares are the things of legend and I’ve certainly had my share, but it’s been a while since I’ve experienced one so visceral. Could it be the cumulative strain of work, family, and Iron Butt Rally planning on top of orchestrating this epic life-altering adventure? Nah, don’t be silly.
When we celebrated the turn of 2019, I felt good. Solid. I had things under control. We had darn near a full year to fine-tune our plans, but honestly we could easily be ready in half that time. All the pieces were really falling into place and, aside from nailing down some details, we could be ready to take off any time.
Flash forward four weeks: FEBRUARY?!?! SWEET MOTHER OF MONKEY MILK, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!? I’m practically down to a double-digit number of days before I have to leave for the Iron Butt Rally! I am NOT ready. I don’t have a heated space to work on my bike, and the -30F with windchill has put a bit of a damper on my rally prep progress. I have literally been waking up in a cold sweat, and not exclusively due to bonus-fail nightmares. I’ve spent many wee hours running through my planned electrical mods, mentally drawing wiring diagrams and cataloging every possible point of glitch, complication, or failure. I’ve spent hours staring at the ceiling, not counting sheep but counting items on my to-do list: Do I really need to rebuild my forks? They’re not THAT sticky… I could probably get away without removing my audio mixer in the spirit of keeping things easy, but then again then more accessories I have on the bike, the greater the potential for something to fail on me. I don’t even want to think about my current waypoint management system – it’s pretty much a complete disaster. By 3am I’ve got myself convinced that all I really need to hit the starting line is a paper map. And an oil change. A paper map, an oil change and a set of tires. All I need is a paper map, an oil change, two sets of tires, one saddlebag full of Justin’s nut butter (preferably Vanilla Almond) and another full of SPORTea. And while this might technically be true, by this point in the night I realize that I’ve become The Jerk and my mental wanderings veer off on a rickety side rail.
I’ll return from the Iron Butt Rally in early July, at which point I’m once again staring down the barrel of a double-digit D-Day for South America. What on earth happened to me mentally in the past month? I went from bobbing happily in the safe, distant port of January to hurling my body into the hyperspeed void of February. Logically I know that I can be rally-ready in under a week of moderately focused work. Why would I suddenly be losing sleep over something that’s well within my ability to handle?
I did some research into the science of time perception and how that might be impacting my anxiety level. What’s interesting is that the scientific research points to most people experiencing an completely opposite effect to that which I’m experiencing; that is, October would typically feel to the average person like it’s forever away, as opposed to looming right around the bend. Generally speaking, when people become accustomed to a certain routine then a wildcard gets thrown in, their perception of time with regards to that new event is slowed down. Think about how people describe something like a car crash (or, in my case, motorcycle crash): Time became super slow-mo, like I could assess and absorb each little detail as I flew through the air. Yet here I am, hurtling headlong into my impending 18-month riding season with a momentum that only seems to be increasing.
I think maybe I’m not giving enough weight to the joy of that new experience, and instead I’m getting mired down in all the details. Might that be because the minutiae of the mechanical prep is actually a part of my normal workday? As a mechanic, all these little tasks are just more of the same stuff I’m doing day in and day out: Wiring this, fabricating that, testing this, flushing that. Literally 90% of the total prep work is just me trying to schedule in more of the same. Perhaps the key is to take a step back and appreciate the bigger picture. The new, the unexpected, the wildcard.
My nightmares are coming in a different form. In last weekend’s blog Wendy talked about midlife crisis and the desire to get out of the rat race for the betterment of our family and our own lives. That desire lives deep in Wendy, but as you read, its a little bit harder for me. You see, I work in the entertainment industry, specifically making network TV shows. It’s an amazing job and a dream that I have worked very hard to fulfill. However, it its a project based gig so no matter how great a job I do, best case scenario is I’ve got 9 months of employment until I’m looking for the next job. This gig economy has kept me and, by default, our family from ever being able to plan anything in advance or take a advantage of cruises and vacation opportunities that have been presented to us. I’m also very limited on taking any sort of time off during a gig because my position on the crew is a one person operation and deals heavily with continuity, so it’s virtually impossible to take a few days off, much less weeks off, without severely affecting the product we are making. So when Wendy talks about accumulating “stuff” like its a bad thing… well, that’s all I had to gauge any sort of success on. Switching that mindset from stuff to experiences has been a nightmare for me to accept, and I still often have to be dragged kicking and screaming by my girls to embrace this reality. Wendy and I have obviously talked about these things in the past, but not until I read her blog did I see just how much my unwillingness to change or really even compromise affected my wife. Wendy, I am sorry that my obstinance put this adventure off for so long.
As for my actual prep for the adventure, I hate to say that I’ve come against some setbacks. First, we ordered a Smove motion stabilizing gimble that would work with both camera platforms we are intending to use. After much experimentation and practice I made the determination that this device was not going to work for us due to it’s glitchy nature and an app that just didn’t muster up to it’s claims. That put me back to the drawing board. I have been looking at a new micro sized gimble/camera from DJI called the Osmo Pocket, when low and behold Hiro Fukuda, one of the camera operators on my show, brought his to work. The entire device is about the size of a roll and a half of quarters and shoots pretty fantastic video from what I’ve seen and what my camera buddy reported. Some more research, and possibly hands on time, and the Osmo Pocket might be our next purchase. Hiro is also quite an accomplished drone camera operator and has been giving me input on that purchase as well.
Second, we had a hiatus week two weeks ago and my intention was to spend several days of that time doing more hands on research with cameras, audio packages, and drone systems to really be able to determine what was going to be the best option for us. Well, of course, nature determined that that was the best time for me to get good and sick. Together with some other unforeseen circumstances, I wasn’t able to make it to the dealer to start putting together a package. One more thing to add to my next work break. We’ve have gotten some proofs for our adventure logo and with some fine tuning coming we hope to present that to all of you in the near future.
I did have one final thought as I sit here typing. I wonder if the nightmares Wendy and I have had are nothing but our dreams reminding us of the necessities required so make themselves and reality.
And as I (Wendy) sit here reading Mike’s contribution this week, I also am left wondering. Mike and I are each covering the prep tasks that are most familiar to us, because they just happen to coincide with our careers. I wonder how our time perception would be impacted if I took on the film-related research and Mike handled the nuts and bolts? But then again, I think that sounds like a real nightmare. Besides, on my better days, I feel like October can’t get here fast enough.
I’m lucky enough to work with a long-time friend, and since hearing of our plans he’s been peppering me with questions about our trip. The other day he asked, “Would it be fair to call this a midlife crisis? Because it seems like it’s more palatable to other people if I call it a midlife crisis.” My immediate and honest response was, “Does it still count as a midlife crisis if I’ve been cajoling Mike to do it for 15 years? If it’s something I’ve wanted to do since my early 20s, is it more accurate to classify it as a midlife crisis or the fulfillment of a dream?” But it’s really had me thinking: Why is it more palatable for people to think of this trip as a midlife crisis?
Part of it may be that it’s not nearly as common for people in the U.S. to embark on extended journeys as it is in some other countries or in other demographics. We don’t have the same kind of guaranteed vacation time as folks in Europe, for example, or the freedom of a college kid with wealthy parents taking a “gap year” to backpack around Asia. Neither one of those circumstances make people feel particularly uncomfortable, but if your peers with middle-class income and a young kid decide to ditch the rat race and embrace family, adventure, and new experiences, people start scratching their heads. Unpalatable, they say. Convince me you’re not crazy, they implore.
I think a big part of what makes people uncomfortable is
when you start acting off-script. Europeans traveling abroad? On-script.
College kids taking off with a big backpack and little planning? On-script.
Middle-age Americans working their fingers to the bone with very little
vacation time, gathering “stuff” until they die? On-script. Leaving steady,
comfortable jobs, plopping the kid in a sidecar, and leaving the country for a
year? WAY off-script. We’re comfortable. We’re content. We’ve been working
hard, building our careers, and gathering “stuff”, as per the script, for many years.
We owned our home, business, a few dozen motorcycles. We’re not lacking for any
necessities or conveniences. If we want it, we can buy it. We could just coast
on in to retirement from here. Why deviate from the script? It just makes
people so darn uncomfortable.
Back to my impulsive, honest answer: This trip really has been a long-time dream. I’d been mulling over the idea in a very loose form for years, but I distinctly remember when it really took on a solid shape. It was 2004 and Mike and I were on our way to visit his sister in Scotland. We were on layover in Amsterdam and I thought “I could ride almost the entire world from here. I literally could hop on a bike and see almost the entire world.” Then I realized, I can hop on a bike and see all of the Americas from home and I have yet to take advantage of that opportunity or seriously pursue that dream. I’m a very goal-driven person (and if you’ve followed my endurance riding career, you’ve probably already guessed that). I decided a long time ago that I never wanted to hear myself say “Some day I will…” for too long without actually making that dream a reality. I’ve been saying “Some day I will ride to Tierra del Fuego” for far too long, and I’m eager to make it happen. It only took me a few years to make good on my resolution to ride past the Arctic Circle, and if I’d been a bit more persuasive I might have convinced Mike to ride straight down to Tierra del Fuego from there. Believe me, I tried. But then life happened, we settled into the script, and making my dreams a reality became a little more cumbersome. Flash forward 20 years and my dream has evolved, but never faded away. I suppose at some point I could have carved out a few weeks somewhere, jammed down there and back just to check it off my list, but that wasn’t all I was hoping to get out of my experience.
So what happened? When did “my dream” become “our dream”? When did a nice little vacation morph into tossing all semblance of stability, selling off most outward evidence of financial success, and spending an extended period of time wandering around the world? For me, I think it was the cumulative strain of staying on-script. Mike and I were both working 80-hour weeks. We both love our careers and don’t mind pouring ourselves into our work; you probably wouldn’t be wrong to classify us as workaholics. But then came the plot twist: After nine years, we had all but given up hope of having a family when we got word that our little Third Wheel was on the way. Her due date was one year to the day after our fertility specialist said there was so little chance of success that there was nothing more he could offer us. Surprise! And so our rad adventure kid, Montessa, was added to the crew. The struggle to have her has really made us exceptionally appreciative for the time we have with her. We built a nursery in our motorcycle shop, so when she was just a few weeks old she began spending her days with me at work. Mike, who worked out of the area most weeks, began to feel the strain of being away from her. As she grew, I began to feel the strain of running a business and being a solo parent during the week. I was balancing the demands of the job with the demands of parenting, with the unique added twist of having to figure out where Sweet Baby Tess had hidden all my tools and what she’d done with half our oil filter inventory. (Inside the helmet boxes on the sales floor and in the seat of her ride-on wrecking ball truck, respectively, if you were playing along at home.) Mike tried (tries) to reassure me that everyone struggles to find that balance, but… why?
I started asking Mike, what is our endgame? Well, to pay our mortgage and have a comfortable amount of stuff, he said. No, but what’s our actual endgame? What are we aiming for? Is this it? Struggling to spend time with our daughter, after struggling for so long to bring her into our lives? Watching as every-more desperate bystanders while her life flies by at mach five? Is this the only circumstance in which we can see ourselves being happy? Are we the happiest, most complete versions of ourselves here, in this place, working 80-hour weeks and trying to scratch out time with our little one while she still wants to be seen with us? (Or, in my case, trying not to have a stroke while juggling a rambunctious two-year-old and a busy motorcycle shop?) We have worked so hard to build our careers, buy all this stuff, get comfortable and established, but is that ALL we want out of life? At what point are we no longer working to provide our daughter with a comfortable life, and instead are working to amass more and more useless, unnecessary “stuff” because that’s what the script says to do? Where does it end? When does enough stuff become enough stuff? When we can ease off and actually start enjoying Montessa and each other, before all we have is a surly teenager and a wistful longing for our impressively sarcastic four-year-old?
Stick to the script, they say. Work hard, cover the essentials, and sock away cash so you can retire like royalty. Don’t rock the boat because it makes the rest of us seasick. Except… Except in my case, that’s not something I can count on. I have a genetic condition that will, with almost 100% certainty, prevent me from living my dreams in retirement. I will consider myself lucky if I make it to Montessa’s high school graduation before I become a slave to my condition. Bummer, definitely, but I’ve watched my family members go through the same fight and I’m not going to delude myself with dreams of an exciting, adventure-filled retirement. Right now this is my reality, so if I’m going to stop saying “Someday…” my timeline is a bit more truncated than most. I can still give Monty a pretty good run for her money (most days… to the extent possible from a parent of “advanced maternal age”) and she still seems to like us (most days), so I don’t want to let this opportunity slip away.
In thinking about our “endgame”, I just could not see it revolving around more stuff. I feel so completely uninspired at the idea of working myself to exhaustion, missing out on my daughter’s entire life, to accumulate more, different “stuff”. I felt so utterly liberated shaking off the shackles of “stuff” before our move to South Dakota. With every trip to the dump, with every unneeded thing sold, with every donation to charity, my soul felt just a little bit lighter. For me, the inspiring endgame was to thrive in the now. To be free to enjoy my family in a way that the day-to-day grind doesn’t permit. For me, the freest I feel is after I’m a couple days into a long motorcycle road trip. When the worries and obligations of the day-to-day become a distant memory and I just enjoy now. Why not combine my desire to enjoy this irreplaceable time with my family with the all-encompassing calm of travel? Why not toss the scripted scene of “giving my daughter all the best by way of endless repulsive materialism” and replace it with “giving my daughter all the best by way of life-changing world travel experiences and irreplaceable time with her family”?
Is this sounding like a midlife crisis? Maybe it is. According
to Wikipedia I’m not technically classified as “mid-life” just yet, but
otherwise it could very well be interpreted as such. Would it have been called
a midlife crisis if Montessa had been born eight years earlier? Would my desire
to appreciate every moment with her have been somewhat less keen if she wasn’t
the result of such a lengthy struggle? Could I be perfectly content in a job I
love, knowing Mike is in a job he loves, if I thought I could bank on a
boisterous retirement full of excitement and exploration? Would it somehow be
less of a midlife crisis if we undertook this same adventure 20 years from now?
Is this a wonderful thing to do for Montessa, to expose her to a wider world
while she’s young enough to be molded by the experience, or is it a selfish
move on our part, uprooting our daughter to gallivant about the globe while we
are most able to enjoy it? Some people say we’re brave to toss it all and take
off on this huge expedition; but really, is it more difficult to live your
dream or to keep up the endless soul-sucking slog of status quo?
The reality is, no matter how we try to package it, it just might be more palatable for people to think of this as a midlife crisis. It’s so easy to grasp that concept; it’s one of those times in life where going off-script is, in fact, part of the script. Buying a crazy new sports car? Ditching the spouse for a younger model? Getting your first tattoo? Onlookers don’t have to work too hard or dig too deeply for understanding if it’s slapped with the big MLC label. I’m starting to realize that doing something huge and off-script probably scares other people way more than it scares us, and people feel a need in this world to label things that are different and scary. This may be our label. The simple fact that I’ve been wanting to take this trip for so long, combined with the fact that I’m not getting any younger, could very well read as a textbook example of a midlife crisis. The idea of a “midlife crisis” hadn’t even entered my consciousness until my friend asked, but I suppose it was a fair question. Upon reflection, I like to think of this trip as a desire to live the best possible life during my allotted laps around the sun, as an individual and as part of an amazing family, and enjoy the fruits of decades of hard work while I’m fully able to do so.
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.