When we last heard from Jeremy Kroeker, back in early April, he was holed up in Uruguay, preparing to sit out the COVID19 disruption for the next few weeks. Then he and his partner Elle West planned to jump back on their motorcycles and ride home to Canada, following the original route of their year-long South American odyssey.
That was three months ago. If you follow him on Twitter or on YouTube, or you’ve caught up with his podcasts on Adventure Rider Radio, you’ll know the two of them are still in Uruguay, and they’re still trying to figure out what happens next. It’s not that easy to ride out the other side of a global pandemic. So I called them up on Skype to find out how they’re doing.
“All the borders are closed, so we can’t leave Uruguay by road,” he said. “And Uruguay’s been doing such a great job of keeping COVID at bay that there’s a chance the borders will stay closed for a long time yet.”
He’s serious – Uruguay may share a border with COVID hotspot Brazil to the north, but there are many days when the country has no new cases of the virus reported. It wants to stay that way, which is good for somebody living there but not so good for somebody who needs to leave.
In theory, Jeremy and Elle could book a flight home and potentially be back in Canada in a month. Flights, however, are haphazard and frequently cancelled. There’s a rumour that there’ll be an available flight out of the country in about three weeks, flying potentially to Frankfurt or Madrid. It may not happen, though, because demand is so low that airlines are unwilling to commit to an expensive, one-third-full airplane. There are no available flights to neighbouring Argentina or Brazil.
The other issue that complicates everything is the fate of their motorcycles. They cannot be easily sold because they must first be registered, and it’s next-to-impossible for even a Uruguayan citizen to register an imported vehicle. If they do sell the bikes, they’ll get pennies on the dollar and besides, Elle is very attached to her trusty 2013 BMW 700GS.
“I love my bike, and I believe she’s got a lot of kilometres left on her,” she said. “She has 135,000 km, and I do honestly hope to double that before she dies on me completely. If somebody offered me a fair amount of cash, I might consider it, but to just leave her behind and walk away, I don’t know if, emotionally, I even could do that.”
Elle admits that $5,000 US might do the trick, for a bike that’s maybe worth $5,000 Cdn. at home, but in Uruguay she’ll be lucky to get $500. And it’s probably illegal. Jeremy is not so bothered about his 2016 Kawasaki KLR and says he would happily file off the serial numbers and push it into a ditch, but the shipping costs they’ve been quoted so far are all pretty much the same for either one or two bikes. Currently, the best estimate they’ve received is for $7,000 to get the motorcycles home, and Jeremy’s shipped his bike enough to know it could easily get rounded up to $10,000.
So how about just storing them, flying home, then coming back later to continue the journey? Their bikes are allowed to remain in Uruguay for a year and then Jeremy and Elle could fly back down to continue the journey; if they’re not ready for that yet, they could fly down, ride over a border for the day, then ride back and store them for another year. Storage will cost $50 a bike to be kept inside at a dealership, or they have an offer of free storage at a new friend’s place, outside under a tarp.
“Our motorcycle permits (for being in Uruguay) are up in February, 2021,” said Elle. “That’s just half a year away. We wouldn’t have the money by then. I have to go home, start a new job, build up the money, and I’m not going to be able to do that by February.”
Elle is a social services counsellor who quit her job to make this road trip; Jeremy works for the Town of Canmore and has a year’s leave of absence that ends October 1. They estimate that they’ll run out of money around then, and they’ll have to pay for their flights home with a line of credit. They’ve been living at rented Air BnBs because it’s winter in Uruguay, and though there’s no snow, it’s too cold to camp for long.
These are First World Problems, for sure. Neither of them are looking for sympathy and they’re just answering my curious questions, but any motorcyclist with a yen for travel and a worthwhile bike can surely understand their challenge. So do they regret finding themselves in this strange situation?
“I don’t like the COVID lockdown and the border closings stalling our plan, and I don’t like the stress that I’m under now,” said Jeremy, “but already, what I’ve experienced so far has made all the stress worthwhile. We would be very regretful if we’d thought, before leaving Canada, that we can’t quite do it now, so let’s wait.”
Elle agreed. “I would do this again in a heartbeat,” she said. “We got to ride to Ushuaia (at the bottom of the continent), which I’ve wanted to do for years and years. We still succeeded – we just got stuck on the way back. If I hadn’t tried, I would have regretted that much more.”