Before Africa there was the Americas! It took Rene a couple of years to complete this leg of his journey but we didn’t stumble across his travels until he’d just finished it. North and South America squeezed into one handy update.
|Rene and his F650GS Dakar.|
36-year old Rene Cormier is one of those people that doesn’t ponder and plan a dream, but actually goes ahead and does it. This dream now sees him riding around southern Africa, the second part of a six-year journey around the world.
Born in Yarmouth N.S., Rene was raised in Edmonton, AB where he completed a Bachelor of Science degree in 1992 before eventually moving stateside in 1999. However, the sale of the company he was working for and required relocation got him thinking about where his life should be heading.
Ultimately, his decision was to jack in the corporate life, sell off all his worldly possessions and take a BMW F650GS Dakar around the world. The first leg of this global odyssey consisted of north, central and south America, the second through Africa, Pakistan, India, Mongolia, Russia, South Korea (and a pause to teach English and earn some $$$), Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
|Rene went to a lot of trouble to get a South American flavour at his Calgary
show booth …
CMG first met up with Rene at the 2006 Calgary Motorcycle Show, while he was back in Canada to raise money for the second part of his worldly adventure. Since then we’ve been working on getting this second leg up on the pages of CMG and have agreed to post updates of his journey in photo-essay format as they are submitted.
For now, let’s hand it over to Rene so that he can bring us to date with just what happened in the first part …
AS THE WORLD
Three years would be sufficient time, and the plan was straightforward enough: quit my marketing job and sell all of my belongings. The freed up time and resources would be used to fund a motorcycle trip around the world. This was the type of trip that all my motorcycle friends talk about, but never have the time, money, or circumstance to actually do.
|Once Rene made the leap he never looked back. Well, maybe once or twice
My opportunity came innocently enough when a Chicago firm bought the company I was working for, which at the time was located in Colorado. The Colorado employees were asked to decide if a move to Chicago would work for them or not. I decided to take a month off to think about it, and what better way to think over a big decision than on a month-long trip to Alaska on my BMW 1150GS?
Up in Alaska, I met the catalyst that I needed to make the right decision in the shape of two guys from Colombia in the ferry line-up bound for Washington State, also traveling on 1150s.
During that long ferry trip they convinced me that now was the time to make a clean cut from work and spend a year touring South America. The benefits were obvious: beautiful countries, amazing riding, beautiful people, and if you skip Brazil, one only needed to learn Spanish!
That was all I needed and I realized that if I left my job at the end of December, I’d have four full months to plan the trip (and enough time to ski one more season). But as the ferry approached our destination, I realized just how big the world was. I was thinking too small. Never mind South America, I would do the world in a year!
|The planned trip is shown in blue. Actual route in red.|
Once home, as I pored over maps, the enormity of the world soon became apparent and my plan needed revising. A world trip in a year is certainly do-able, but how much do you really get to see and experience if all you do is ride?
I decided to approach it another way. I would take all the money I had and add to that all the money I could make by selling anything of value. The next step was to figure out a daily budget, divide one by the other and that would give me the amount of time I would have.
My final cash pot turned out to be about $40,000 US; a daily budget of about $30.00 US per person is suggested from Chris and Erin Ratay’s (www.ultimatejourney.com) traveling website.
The quick math gives funds for a 3.5 year trip, but that doesn’t include items such as medical insurance, flights and shipping to other continents, so I figured a three year trip would be about right. It would make it a very skinny budget, but I only had what I had, so it would have to do.
The only other unresolved issue was with my new girlfriend Amy. She had lost her husband in an auto racing accident the year before, and she was ready to take life by the horns because she knew – more than I did – how fragile it is and how it can change in an instant.
But this was going to take effort as she had never traveled outside of the US, nor had she ever ridden a motorcycle … and I wasn’t about to take a pillion! On the plus side, she was also willing to sell her worldly possessions, buy a bike and learn to ride it.
THE PERFECT BIKE?
|The GS in showroom trim.|
Having Amy join the trip solved a question I had been struggling with for months – which bike to take? I had the 2002 BMW 1150GS that I took to Alaska, but I also had a 1986 BMW R100 GSPD. Both had qualities that were appealing. The 1150nwas new, had lots of power and carrying capacity. The older R100 was air-cooled, simpler to work on, and cheaper to maintain.
Having read the web reports of couples that were traveling by motorcycle, the common wisdom was clear: take identical bikes … or at least bikes that are similar in nature. That way it’s possible to reduce the number of tools and spare parts, and troubleshooting is much easier.
|Having two bikes pretty much the same would cut down on spare parts and the
need for more mechanical knowledge.
The quandary was solved when Amy bought the BMW F650, but with a factory lowered option, as it was the only adventure-style bike that fit her. So I swallowed my macho pride and sold the big bikes, and – following the advice of travelers before me – bought a 2003 BMW F650 Dakar.
One of the few complaints I had with the bikes was the small gas tank– only 14.5 litres. Only one aftermarket company – Touratech – was making larger tanks for this bike as the tank is difficult to change due to being located under the seat. The Touratech tanks are used for long distance rallies and races and are priced accordingly: at just under $2,000 US you get an additional 22 litres of fuel, for a total load of 36.5 litres.
That’s enough for almost anywhere!
I bought the extra tanks for myself, and if Amy needed extra fuel we would simply siphon it from my bike. Touratech also provided many of the overlanding specific parts for this trip, including the large 41 litre aluminum panniers at the back, foot peg relocation kits, GPS mount, tank bags, bar risers and lower front fender.
|Bullet hole in tank (top) and bemused sheriff holding the slug (below).|
Amy’s bike was equipped with the smaller 35 litre panniers, a tank bag, and we both carried extra large Ortleib dry bags to house the oddball shaped things like tents, Thermorest mattresses and shoes. We went so far as to switch the front wheel on her bike from 19” to 21” to get rid of one of the few differences found between the two models.
THE FIRST STEP
I finally left Colorado in May of 2003, albeit alone as Amy first had to finish her long-lingering masters degree. The plan was to head north towards Vancouver and then travel east across Canada to Newfoundland before heading south again through the States and into Central America.
Once in South America Amy would fly her bike by air cargo, and meet me in Ecuador. We didn’t know then that we would only travel together for only 5 months before she would return to the U.S. …
My first major incident happened only three days into the trip, fifteen miles outside Delta, Utah, when strangers fired a .22 caliber bullet into the $2,000 gas tank of the bike one night while I was camping in the desert – and sleeping under
the bike!The bullet punctured the tank, causing fuel to pour over my sleeping bag. By the time I awoke and realized what was happening, the headlights of the shooter were disappearing back into the night.
Time goes quickly on the road, and no more unsettling incidents occurred; soon the easy countries of Canada and the USA were rearview mirror images, and Latin America stretched out before me as an endless game of new words, new customs, and new scenery.
|Bolivia had some interesting roads!|
Each morning arrived with the happy realization that I hadn’t been killed by banditos, raped by gangsters, or had my pocket picked by roaming gangs of disheveled youths – as I was advised by friends before leaving Colorado. In fact, the only dodgy incident in 80,000 kilometers of traveling was that night in Utah!
AMY’S LAST STAND
By the time I arrived in Ecuador, I had honed my traveling style and my Spanish was coming along nicely. When Amy and I met again as planned, I had to make the difficult overnight transition from solo independent traveler to boyfriend/mechanic/tour guide/and translator.
We had seen each other on two brief occasions in the previous ten months, and I was now wondering how sound our decision to travel together was.
|Stunning mountain passes keep the focus off relationships …|
Fortunately South America allows no rest from stunning mountain passes to desolate beaches and generous, if shy, locals. Any issues we were having as a couple were soon smoothed over by the sheer opulence of the Andean mountains.
South America is a popular destination for European motorcyclists, and it became quite common for us to travel with others for a day or two at a time. The general travel plan was to funnel southward, to the tip of South America for Christmas and New Years, while the weather there was at its best.
On the way south we joined a couple from England and a host of locals on a three day tour of the Bolivian jungle to retrace Che Guevara’s last movements, and to visit the town deep in the country where he was executed in 1967 by CIA-backed government troops.
|The Che memorial in the town of La Higera where he was killed.|
This may have been the last trip that Che made, but it would prove to be the end of Amy’s adventures too. Twenty kilometers from the end of the tour Amy high-sided on a lazy left hand gravel turn, injuring her knee. We transported her three hours to the nearest hospital where she underwent reconstructive surgery for a torn knee ligament.
This crash had brought our relationship into focus, and we couldn’t put off dealing with how we felt about continuing the trip with each other. She would return home on a direct flight from Bolivia to Pennsylvania, and I would send her motorcycle to her later that week. It was to be the last time we would see each other.
I continued on to Ushuaia, Argentina, to join the others in the New Years celebrations. I had been on the road for 20 months, and realized that according to my original plans, I should be almost half way around the world by now.
I discovered that I have a natural tendency to travel slowly; to sink my feet into the little towns that I stop in and to live – if only for a day – as an Argentinean, a Chilean, or a Peruvian.
There is a responsibility that comes with traveling with more time than money, and that is to not let a smaller budget give you a smaller experience. I was more convinced than ever that I was doing the right thing in my life – I just needed to reinforce the budget!
In July I went to the port of Montevideo in Uruguay, and sent the motorcycle home by sea. I flew
myself home on air miles, to sleep on my brother’s couch in Edmonton, and to work and save as much money as I could so that the adventure could continue.
After one year, I had saved up sufficient funds, crated up the motorcycle once more, and was on my way to Africa.
NEXT UPDATE & OTHER BITS
|Ready for Africa!|
We go into photo-essay format and follow Rene’s journey into deep dark Africa!
For more info (including a detailed summary of the bits added to the GS and how they faired as well as a diary of the trip), check out Rene’s site at www.renedian.com.