Years ago, at a restaurant in Austria, over the shrieks of those present, I toppled backwards off my chair and down a set of stone steps to the pavement. Moments earlier I had been teetering on the chair’s hind legs, balancing just so. My friend observed that my act seemed dangerous. “Danger is my middle name,” I said. Then the predictable thing happened.
Bam. January night, two decades later, I was driving with a friend in Toronto. Being not from the area, I took a wrong turn. The quickest way to fix it — crank a u-ball across four lanes. Sure, it was illegal, but it wasn’t dangerous with so little traffic this time of night, I assured him. We bickered about it for a spell before I raised my voice to proclaim, “I have excellent judgement and perfect depth perception!” Gripping the wheel, I spun hard to port, directly into the path of an unseen vehicle. We did not crash. But the echo of that car horn is trapped in my head to this day. My friend, so quiet, just stared at me all the way back to the hotel.
Why do these incidents spring to mind? Because, in my latest article, I wrote about my and my girlfriend’s upcoming motorcycle trip from Canada to South America. In it, after writing about how I had failed to complete the journey in the past, I concluded with (and I’m paraphrasing), “This time I’m definitely going. What could possibly go wrong?” I might as well have said, “Danger is my middle name. I have excellent judgement and perfect depth perception!”
Just after the article ran, a few things happened in quick succession. Some of it was good. Behold! My employers officially approved my leave of absence for 13 months. The day after that — literally the very next day — I learned that I would also soon be off for shoulder surgery. So, “Thanks for granting me this unprecedented leave, boss. Also, I’ll be away on medical leave all summer. So, make that 16 months off. Bye!”
That was never the plan. I had been waiting for this surgery for a long time. I waited so long, in fact, that I assumed I would have to do the trip with a bit of pain and just have the operation when I got back. Suddenly, though, the hospital contacted me with a date, and it came just in time to heal up (in theory) before the big ride.
Then came the news that the condominium complex that I had recently bought into had gone broke. It’s a complicated story, and I’m aware of more rumours than facts. But the kicker is, of the $30,000 I had scratched together for my trip, the condo needed most of it. Right now.
And that’s not all. Just 14 days before our chosen departure date, I got an angry message from one of our newly elected condo board members. In it, he threatened to sue me for what he believed was a fraudulent purchase of a parking stall in the building. I found out that this guy enjoys lawsuits, dear reader, with the same vim that you and I enjoy motorcycles. Knowing that, rather than packing for a long journey, I found myself scrambling to find legal representation. More time and money out the window.
And how, you ask, was my girlfriend and riding partner doing during all of this? Well, like a responsible motorcycle owner, Elle took her 2013 BMW F700GS in for a service. Although she was a bit ahead of her service schedule, she decided to have the valves checked too. The mechanic set about the work, only to discover a worn cam chain that needed replacing. Yes, her bike has 104,000 kilometres on the clock. Perhaps we shouldn’t be shocked.
So began the search for a new chain. None in Canada, I’m afraid. If it comes in from Germany, that’s a four-week wait. The mechanic ordered one from Florida that might work. Might. Elle paid for expedited shipping. But then the mechanic had to leave town for a few days because of a death in the family. Are you kidding me? No. Nobody’s kidding at this point. He would return on Wednesday evening, he said. He would give the repairs his full attention on Thursday, and Friday. (We were supposed to leave on Friday.) So now, if the chain from Florida fit, and if there were no new problems with the installation, and if there were no complications with the mechanics travel plans, then — then — the bike should be ready for pickup on Saturday.
All of these things combined and hit me like a blow to the head. In the run up to August 16, our departure date, I went to sleep thinking about lawsuits. Visions of cam chains troubled my dreams. Cash calling condo corporations cluttered my cranium. Shoulder pain interrupted my sleep, too.
Then, after a few restless nights and many, many deep breaths, things started to work out. My employer, though shocked at my audacity, helped with paperwork to cover my medical leave. (The surgery went well, by the way, and I am recovering according to schedule, thanks for asking.) The crisis of the condo complex is ongoing but, good news, the cash call has yet to achieve worst case scenario. After the original scare of the rumoured $20,000 ask, a new board has been selected, our affairs have begun to settle, and (so far) we have only taken a hit of a few thousand dollars per unit.
Speaking of a new board, that threat of legal action. Well, I did speak with several lawyers. They all assured me that I had done nothing wrong. However, the sale may have been done illegally from the seller’s end and, yes, it was possible (though unlikely) that I could lose the stall if I fought it in court. And, really, how do I stand up for myself in small claims court if I’m riding a motorcycle in South America? No, it was decided with the help of my counsel that I should return the stall to the condo building and receive a full refund for my purchase. That was the easiest way out — although it meant that I had to scramble to find storage for my car.
Elle’s mechanic returned from out of province and assembled her machine. As I packed up my house, finally, she made her way out to collect the bike.
True, we were behind schedule and stressed out like a squirrel on skates, but we were mobile. We had planned to spend the weekend camping with friends near Invermere, BC at the Wanduro event. Now we would arrive a day and half late. But, we did it!
We rolled in well after dark and carrying a massive amount of supplies haphazardly hanging off of our bikes. The next day, while our friends rode the backroads of the Rocky Mountain Trench and through the Purcell Mountains, Elle and I sweltered under a clear sky as we tinkered with motorcycles, and collected arm loads of surplus gear to ship home. (You know, I’ve done a few of these trips before. When will this experience ever kick in to help with my packing decisions? Never. It never will.)
So, yeah. We may not be very much closer to South America than we were last week, but we are out the front door. Everyone agrees that’s the hardest part. The anxiety and stress still lingers with me, to be honest. It’ll pass. Like the excess baggage we shed on our first few days of a trip, I don’t need to carry it. At some point, probably around Southern California, I’ll let it go. I’ll travel light from then on. That’s the goal, anyway.
Until that moment, just know this: I have excellent judgement and perfect depth perception!
UPDATE: We’ve left Southern California, across the Mojave Desert to Lake Havasu, Arizona, where we are now staying with friends for a few days. Everyone warned us about the heat. “Don’t go this time of year,” they said. And we laughed. Then we hit hours of riding with temperatures peaking at 45 degrees. Now we’re not laughing.
Instead, we’re staging here in Arizona in a lovely, air-conditioned house. Plotting our next move, tinkering on bikes, fiddling with camera gear, and watching lizards. We plan to cross into Mexico on September 1, maybe 2.
It’s early, we know, and it’ll be hot. We’ll move slow at first. We need to be in Panama for our sailing around the Darien Gap for October 18. We want to linger in Colombia for a spell. And our hope is to reach our southernmost point around the New Year.
CMG will be publishing regular, exclusive updates from Jeremy over the next year during his South American journey.
He 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.