Riding a motorcycle for months on end, and traveling the way we have, has its challenges. I wouldn’t exactly call it roughing it, but there are certainly a few sacrifices you have to make to travel like this. We are exposed to the elements for long periods of time. There is a lot of physical stress as well, for the bike and for the rider. The travel itself and some of these other factors can certainly leave me feeling worn out. But whenever I may be feeling even slightly like I’ve had a hard day, I catch a glimpse of a bicyclist and am reminded that in comparison, my travel style is luxurious.
There is a hierarchy to overlanding, at least to my way of thinking. There are those giant MAN trucks, then RVs, and then campers and vans, then motorcycles….and at the most very basic level there are bicycles. I have the utmost respect for people who travel long distances by bike. The sheer physical exertion it must take to cover any kind of distance, to tolerate weather extremes, and to carry all you need on your bike and body without the aid of any motor is unimaginable to me. And on this particular route (the Americas) you can add to that the fact that roads run the length of the Andes. For that, the respect I have is exponentially increased. Completely uninformed as to how it even works, I once asked a cyclist friend, Jim, how many miles he rode on an average day. He replied by saying that he measured his day in vertical feet, not miles. In other words, his energy would be expended in climbs up mountain passes instead of over long flat terrain. He said that his limit was something like X-thousand vertical feet for the day instead of 40 or 50 miles or whatever that number would be. There were so many factors in his route planning that were different than mine that I was blown away. He had to consume thousands of calories just to keep up with his energy needs and ate “bags” of bread and fruit each day.
Brian and I first met Jim in Cartagena at a hostel where he was staying with other motorcyclist friends we had stopped to see. Our friend Pete had talked about this inspiring bicyclist who had a blog going, called Pedaling for Pennies, and that we should meet him. Jim’s this really mellow and super nice guy, and since he was practically my neighbor (he comes from Minnesota) I liked him right away. Brian and I both did. And we’ve kept in touch via Facebook and had the good luck to cross paths with him a few times along the way south from Colombia.
One time Brian pulled over on the PanAm Highway in Ecuador and turned us back the way we had come. I had no idea what was up, but followed, and after we rode back a mile or two we stopped at a roadside café. Brian had seen Jim….so we stopped for a chat. Another time we were staying at a hostel in Peru and Jim messaged to say he and a couple of German cyclists were going to be in town for the night. Brian and I made two giant pots of pasta for them thinking that they would be three bottomless tummies after all that hard work. It was our way of keeping them going. And getting to catch up with Jim and his friends and share some stories made for a great evening.
We saw Jim again along the Carretera Austral in Chile a few weeks ago and we stopped to chat. He camped at the same place we were camping one night in Rio Tranquilo and we got to share some conversation and wine, along with other biker friends. And in the morning he was off. He had too many miles to cover to linger and had set a deadline for himself by booking his return flight home…so he had to keep going.
After we had relaxed and rested in Ushuaia for more than a week, we hear from Jim. He was getting close to Ushuaia and although we had been complaining maybe we should have gotten moving sooner, Brian and I were both happy to be able to be there for his crossing the finish line. Markus and Karin were here too and we all planned to ride out and meet Jim at the gates to the city. So on Friday the 13th we get our gear on, get our bikes started, make a banner to welcome him, get a few treats for his bunk at the hostel, and go out to meet the man, the myth, the legend.
We are so excited for him. Brian rides out of town to find out where Jim is at on the road. I can feel my heart racing thinking he will be coming around the corner any moment now. Karin and Markus and I get cameras and the banner ready. And then we wait…..and wait…..and wait. Brian was gone for 20 minutes or more.
While I was certainly excited for myself to get here, I can only imagine what Jim must be feeling. The idea that he got here all on the work of his own body is absolutely incredible to me. Karin and I are both on the verge of tears for sheer happiness for him. All that work, and all those miles….almost finished.
Suddenly Brian returns and he calls out as he rides up that Jim is only about a mile away….and then a minute later there Jim is….rounding the corner of the road up ahead and here he is approaching fast. We start to cheer! Karin and I stretch out the banner and Jim rides for it, hitting it right in the middle causing it to rip out of my hand. Woohoo!!! He made it!
Congratulations, Jim! And welcome to Ushuaia!!!
If there is one thing I might have done differently with my trip, it’s that I might have used it as an opportunity to help others while on my ride, the way Jim has done. It’s so selfless and compassionate. Jim has been raising funds for cancer research, in honor of his father, with his journey through two continents. He rode from his home in Minnesota to Alaska in the first stage and then left Minnesota to ride to Ushuaia in 2013 for the second stage. His commitment is inspirational…and Brian and I are so glad we crossed his path on the way.
Jim, we hope you know how proud we are of you. And how blessed we feel to have shared part of our journey with your journey this past year. We wish you safe travels home, a hot day for the polar plunge, and crowds of loved ones and supporters to welcome you and cheer you on. And someday, we expect you to take us fishing.