Gap years, euro trips, and round the world (RTW) backpacking trips are not uncommon for the young and privileged. They are typically taken by Europeans before starting university, and by recent university graduates from UK, Europe, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Preparing for those types of trips usually involve visiting MEC/REI to get a backpack, some travel clothes and then trying to fit everything one can think of needing during the trip into the pack.
How do you prepare for a motorcycle trip from Toronto to Tierra del Fuego (the southern tip of South America) and Antarctica? This type of trip is much more complex due to multiple factors: duration, weather conditions, types of accommodations, motorcycle tools and equipment, and portability.
Some people make lists, consult friends, do a massive amount of research and planning.
If you’re me, your solution is: PROCRASTINATION.
First, lets go back in time. Over 6 years ago, in my final year of university, I watched the TV series The Long Way Round and the movie Motorcycle Diaries. I’ve always been fond of motorcycles growing up but never owned or rode one on my own. After watching the movie and the series, something clicked. Motorcycle Diaries made the people and scenery of South America so fascinating and emotive. I thought to myself, “What could be a more amazing way of traveling South America than by motorcycle?”
I completed my final year of studies and graduated. Took 4.5 months off to do my RTW 2007 adventure which included 2.5 weeks in South America (should have been longer but the SA portion was at the tail end of my trip before starting work and I had extended my time in Africa and New Zealand). In my mind, I would be back in four or five years time by motorcycle.
I started work full-time. The first summer home, I completed a motorcycle safety course and bought a second hand learner bike (blue 2001 Kawasaki Ninja named “Nikita”). That was my first step towards motorcycling to South America. In the winter of 2008, the economy slowed down and I took a short leave of absence to travel India and Nepal. In Pokhara, I rented a motorcycle (Pulsar 180 named “Petrova”) for a week and traveled around Nepal. I had intended on renting a Royal Enfield but the thought of taking the Royal Enfield (which had unfamiliar controls) around the Tribhuvan Highway (tight, twisty with several hundred metre cliff drops) was downright scary so I rented a bike with conventional/Japanese style shifting. Although I had some issues on my first motorcycle trip, I was hooked. Traveling on a motorcycle has a way of making you feel part of the scenery rather than watching it through a frame (or cage as motorcyclists like to call it). Locals/people frequently approach you to chat. You feel the excitement of the acceleration and leaning into curves is an indescribable joy. You feel the road beneath you and the weather around you. The smells permeate your nostrils and overload your senses.
At some point, I took a look at the map of South America and noticed how close the end was to Antarctica. Since Antarctica was the only continent I’ver never been to, I made setting foot in Antarctica part of the trip objective. As a result, my trip objective changed from motorcycle South America to motorcycling to the end of South America (specifically, Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego).
In 2011, I took the next major step by picking my travel companion: an alpine white 2010 BMW F800GS motorcycle which I call Francesca. Compared to the Kawasaki Ninja “Nikita” she was young (1 year old model, 1280 miles) and athletic (BMW 798cc dual-sport bike with 21″ front and 17″ rear). With a few modifications and farkles (functional sparkles) I hoped she would be my ride to South America. I needed to bond with Francesca and test her out. Feeling guilty about my lack of Canadian travel in comparison to my world travels, I rode from Toronto to St. John’s, NF via the Trans-Labrador Highway. I took the ferry across to Nova Scotia, completed the Cabot Trail and went home via Halifax, Gaspé, Québec City, Mount Tremblant, and Kingston. I had some issues being new to offroading but overall the bike performed very well so I was encouraged.
Fast forward to summer 2013. Work and other types of personal engagements prevented me from doing much riding. I took a one day off-road course through CMTS (BMW GS Off Road Rider Training Centre) on a small dirt bike and then another 1.5 hour on a BMW F650GS. The instructors (especially Clinton) were great and I wish I had practiced on the smaller dirt bikes before my Trans-Lab trip. I replaced a few motorcycle equipment I wasn’t happy with (ADV-Spec crashbars to replace the Wunderlich ones which didn’t come up high enough to protect the fairings, Barkbuster handguards which are more solid than the Touratech’s, Madstad adjustable windshield providing better air flow over the helmet rather than hitting me in the chest).
I targeted an August departure to give me time to arrive in Ushuaia in mid-December. Although weather can be unpredictable any time of the year in Patagonia, it seemed most favourable in December and January. Work was very accommodating in giving me the time off for this trip which is so important to me. The departure date of August 8th quickly approached and the last few days were busy taking care of errands and picking up items for the trip. It was while walking home from MEC that the enormity of the trip suddenly hit me. I would be away from my home and my loved ones for nearly 6.5 months. I would motorcycle through some challenging terrain and areas with enough travel advisories to make anyone question why they would go there. There was so much unknown. Where will I stop? Where will I sleep? How will I cross the Darién Gap? Will the bike be able to handle this trip? With my off-roading skills, will I be able to handle this trip? Could I afford this?
There was enough doubt to make anyone reconsider but I was determined to follow through. This will be a grand adventure. I would take it one step at a time and take on the challenges as they come.