For those of you keeping track, this will be my fourth attempt to reach South America by motorcycle. Although I haven’t left yet, and I’ve done remarkably little planning for the journey, I’m pretty sure that this time – this time – I’ll really go.
It was a very young Jeremy, merely a boy, who first had this idea planted in his head. I was in Europe, hitchhiking a little, and exploring by train. The year was 1995. I met a fellow Canadian who suggested that, when our European adventure drew to a close, we meet back in Canada, purchase two new Kawasaki KLR 650s (it’s the motorcycle with the largest capacity fuel tank, he said), and ride all the way to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America.
Never mind that in 1995 the KLR was already outdated. Upon hearing my friend’s proposal, my first thought was, “A new KLR? Must be nice, Mr. Money-bags over here. He probably has so much coin that he also intends to purchase all the accoutrements that go with motorcycle travel, like luggage. And gloves.”
No, I could not afford such things. When I returned to Canada, I would be broke. With a little luck and hard work, perhaps I could live comfortably at, or slightly below, the poverty line. And so it came to pass.
Yet, in the following decade, I could not shake the idea of taking a motorcycle and tracing that long line that runs across the earth, nearly unbroken from North to South. I would do it one day, or so I told myself.
Then it happened. Older now, but still very much a lad in my late 20s, I experienced my first real heartbreak as a relationship fell apart. After wallowing in self-pity for a silly amount of time, I picked myself up by the sprockets and took my leave. In an attempt to flee my youthful emotional pain, along with any feeling of responsibility for the situation, I would set off with a motorcycle in the direction of South America.
The first time
The year was 2003, and this was Attempt Number One. Much has been written about that trip (In Jeremy’s first book, Motorcycle Therapy – Ed.), so I won’t unpack it all here. Like my former self in Europe, I still could not imagine shelling out for a new motorcycle, but I did find enough change in my couch cushions that I could get a used 2001 Kawasaki KLR 650. (No, I did not research other machines. The idea for the trip came pre-packaged, and it included the bike.)
Although I consider this my first try at reaching South America, in truth, the “plan” was light on details. I picked up a riding partner just a few weeks before setting off (another friend I had met in Europe and a man who, like me, had recently been “let go” by his girlfriend), and we hit the road. It was a great trip at times, and a miserable experience at others. We made it as far as Panama before running out of money. Our patience for one another had gone as well. We just turned around and came back to Canada.
In 2007, on my second effort to reach South America, I spent most of my time in Iran.
I know, right?
One of my family members, who is really not into travel, nor the study of geography, once asked me if Iran was in South America. After pausing a moment to ascertain whether or not they were joking (they were not), I simply said, “Nope.” And it’s not, is it? So how did I end up in the Middle East?
The second time
Well, I did intend to ride south. But at the time, the president of the United States, George W. Bush, was making noises about bombing Iran. Thankfully that never happened, but it made me curious about the country and its people.
Also, I had written a book about my last trip to Panama, and I intended to write about this trip as well. Then a friend pointed out, “That’s the same book.” So I redirected my efforts to the Middle East. The motorcycle, on the other hand, remained the same. I sold my 2001 KLR, and I purchased an identical 2001 KLR, only with fewer kilometres on the odometer.
Returning from that trip (and writing his second book about it, Through Dust and Darkness – Ed.), I put aside thoughts of long-distance motorcycle travel for a while. I still wandered though, returning to the Middle East without my bike to poke around and write articles for various newspapers. When that lifestyle very quickly became financially unsustainable, I returned home to Canada and settled in to another period of workaday torpor.
The third time
Then several things happened in quick succession that would give my third attempt to ride to South America an air of predictability. My live-in girlfriend’s father died. Then my father died. Then I broke up with my live-in girlfriend. Then I took possession of my late father’s 1982 Honda CB750 Custom that had been languishing beneath a tarpaulin in Saskatchewan for years.
Sure, it was a radically inappropriate machine for a long trip. And it didn’t run. But I was unhinged – a sort of prerequisite for me to undertake any journey, so it would seem.
After patching up the Honda, even going so far as to have the engine rebuilt, I took it on a few test rides. Twice I rode out to California for a Horizons Unlimited meeting, and once to Nevada for Overland Expo West. I even tested its mettle on daunting mountain passes and logging roads in BC. Sometimes the suspension would bottom out, but the CB was up to the task. So, the bike ran, and it was fun to operate, but she was temperamental. If the mercury dipped even down to 10° Celsius, the old girl struggled to life.
Then, eight months out from my proposed departure, I took stock of my situation. I had to grudgingly admit that, not only would this motorcycle likely cause me headaches for the duration of my journey, but that I also did not have nearly enough money saved for a year away.
The term work I had been doing for the local municipality turned into a full-time offer, along with all the wonderful trappings that go with it: benefits, extra money, paid vacation, the threat of security. I accepted the offer anyway and, two years later, found myself with a mortgage on a little condo.
Fourth time’s the charm
That brings us to the present day and my fourth stutter step toward a long-desired goal. I still work for the municipality, in Canmore, Alberta, and I still carry a mortgage. But in this mountain town, renters are easy to find. (I’ll have to pay extra every month on top of the rental income to keep the place, but it should be affordable, if only I sleep in ditches more than hotels.) My employer is open to granting a leave of absence for the 13 months I hope to be away, although they’ve not yet officially approved my leave.
I have a willing travel partner in my girlfriend, who has twice ridden her motorcycle to Panama and who speaks passable Spanish. We are both fairly independent travellers, and we’ve discussed this trip at length. Even if something happens to derail the trip for one of us, the other is free to carry on with it. In a way, we’re travelling together but, in a way, we’re on separate, parallel journeys.
Now I find my departure date just five months away. It occurs to me that I’m a 46-year-old man, still trying to fulfill the dream of my 22-year-old self. I have to overcome different obstacles now. When I was young, money posed the biggest problem. Now I’m comfortable, and that’s the problem.
What if I can’t afford to keep my condo if I take this trip? What if my employer doesn’t approve my leave and I lose my job? What if this journey causes fractures in my relationship with my girlfriend? What if I try again and my resolve weakens? What if I fail? There are dozens of questions like these, all orbiting around a nucleus of fear.
This, my fourth attempt at riding to South America, is shaping up to be my most determined effort. I even bought another KLR 650 for the trip. This one is a 2016 model that had been passed over by everyone and sat for two years on the showroom floor of Blackfoot Motosports in Calgary. It is currently getting tuned in at Universal Cycle in Calgary so it’s all ready to go for the summer, and the 13-month journey ahead.
Yes, this time I think I’m really ready to go. You know how I can tell? Because I still want to. And you know all those questions orbiting around fear … what if … but what about … what happens when?
Well, for me, they can all be answered in roughly the same way – that’s okay.
Pretty simple, really. After all, there’s no pressure except that which I place on myself. Hey, if this trip doesn’t pan out, I can always try again another time.
CMG will be publishing regular, exclusive updates from Jeremy over the next year during his South American journey – provided he goes this time and doesn’t put it off. In the meantime, catch up with him tonight, April 25, at the Pages on Kensington bookstore in Calgary for the launch of his latest anthology of two-wheeled writing: Motorcycle Messengers 2.
Jeremy Kroeker is the author of Motorcycle Therapy: A Canadian Adventure in Central America, and Through Dust and Darkness: A Motorcycle Journey of Fear and Faith in the Middle East. With his motorcycle, he has traveled to 30 countries while managing to do at least one outrageously stupid thing in every one.