A fistful of FAQs…
Jason started riding from around the age of 16 and has enjoyed riding a handful of sports bikes over the years. Prior to 2012, riding ‘two up’ worked seamlessly—I’d never ridden anything other than the fairground’s Big Dipper and I loved the buzz as Jason’s pillion. As much as we treasured the comforts of the R1200GSA tourer, Jason soon mused on whether the bike would end up dictating where we could go through the Americas as opposed to us dictating where we wanted the bikes to go. A seed had been planted and unknowingly, I started the process of germinating it.
When I scrawled my name down in a competition at an event Motorcycle Live—I had no notion that it’d lead to winning much more than the runner up prize – a morning’s wobbling on two wheels. The next thing you know, I’d passed my test first time with the Shires Motorcycle Training School and got busy riding Pearl, a F650GS bike. This, coupled with a two day course with Simon Pavey’s Off Road Skills School in South Wales—I was no natural rider—paved the way for a more challenging adventure, encompassing dirt tracks off the roads less travelled. As a Brucey bonus, it also afforded the opportunity to load up Jason’s panniers with filming and photography tech whilst mine would dutifully carry camping equipment and provisions. Good old Pearl. Winner winner, chicken dinner!
What made you decide to take this journey? What’s your motivation?
Two wheeled travel finds you free from walls and windows, which leaves you vulnerable—it paves the way towards spontaneity and excitement. Fortunately, this has become true for us, a pair of wanderlust seeking Brits from Nottingham. We honestly didn’t think twice about swopping the life conventional for the ride of a lifetime. We’re now homeless in the traditional sense—home is where the motorcycle is—without off-spring and free from the 9-5 job; what better time to embrace some life-changing adventure.
So why did we–stable in our jobs with a cottage in the country–jack it all in? Like Jason, I guess sometimes I too felt a little encumbered; enduring the unchanging routine of work, rest and making some imaginative short-lived play before thrown into the repetitive cycle once again. Clinging to the hope that this wasn’t as good as it gets, we opted to sell the house—it’s only when you’ve liquefied most of your assets and pack your life up into a few boxes do you rightly reap the rewards. The sacrifices made are more than worth it.
We decided on the Americas because neither of us had been before. A Passage de Carnet isn’t necessary to travel in the Americas and most of the countries we’ll be riding through are fairly stable politically; a perfect starting point in which to get a taste of motorcycling adventure. We’ve scuba dived the globe over fifteen years together—it feels good to diversify, integrating our passions into something fresh. Spending time with people from all walks of life, sinking into a place and different lifestyles draws the biggest appeal from the trip for us. That and anywhere there are big open spaces in which to go off-grid without having to rely on public transport or organised tours.
Jason has twenty-five plus years riding experience on me; before 2012 I’d never ridden anything other than a bell-jingling donkey on Blackpool beach. Perfectly contented as a pillion, I entered a competition at a national biking event but won so much more than the runner up prize; a morning’s wobbling on two wheels. As tentative as I was, I never looked back. In four months, I went from zero to ‘Lets go!’ and passed my test first time thanks to the unfaltering patience of my instructor.
In the saddle, you’re as free to let your mind wander as your wheels are to roam. Overland travel draws on a newfound freedom that allows you to be in the present moment, as opposed to wishing your life away on a Monday morning to Friday afternoon as we sometimes do; not because you dread every waking minute at work but out of choice, where would you rather be and what would you be doing? Wherever and whatever that is, I can vouch that pursuing a passion for the world in the spirit of self-governed adventure, travelling by unsupported and self-sufficient means—no one can remove the exultation on your soul for which that will bring.
Jason’s current bike is a 2008 BMW F800GS bought with 5K miles on the clock. As there is no such thing as the perfect bike for overland travel, he opted for this bike because it’s the bike of his heart. The first thing Jason would say about the beast is that it’s quite a lot lighter than the BMW R1200GSA; very noticeable in the bends with a lively engine and a top speed on a par with the R1200GSA, which is loads of fun.
Pearl, my bike is a BMW F650GS which is 2001 model and started with 27K miles on the clock. I spotted this factory-lowered bike on eBay at the right price so I took a chance. To be honest it looked better in the pictures than in the flesh, so with a few cans of spray paint and three days of hard graft, Jason transformed her from an ugly duckling into a swan. She’s oodles of fun to ride although many, including Jason would find it a little under-powered for their taste. Jason fitted Oxford heated grips because the originals had expired, plus a Touratech radiator guard. As well as an additional sump guard over the original belly pan and a set of Metalmule panniers. More about the bikes here.
Anyone whose jigsaw pieces in their life can coalesce—and respectfully, not everybody’s can—simply the commitment to a decision to go is all it takes. Followed by doing whatever is necessary to make it happen. It sounds too easy, but in reality it really is! The hardest part happens right at the start when you have to relinquish all the aspects in your life that hold you from doing it in the first place. Having reached a point in our 9-5 lives that no longer reaped enough intrinsic reward, the time came for a change and we decided on a big one. Once we’d engaged in a rather interesting and life-changing conversation, we pinned down a departure date, rather the container shipping agent sent us one and the pieces thereafter fell into place. It still took a degree of work but at least with every action, we were one step nearer to going.
The best thing about riding as a couple is the constant companionship. Two-wheeled travel bestows unexpected experiences upon you daily, phenomenal firsts and vistas that will make your soul sing. We’re very lucky to share all of that. We take it for granted that one can turn around to the other, grin and gawp at something, or yak down the helmet’s intercom for hours. Likewise when circumstances get tough, we’re together to joint problem solve and bounce ideas off each other. Essentially, wanting to see the same countries, travelling by the same means and living out an adventure side-by-side—nothing could make us happier right now. What’s the worst thing you may wonder? The constant companionship! Being with your ‘marvellous other’ 24/7 in often unpredictable and difficult conditions through foreign lands can be a challenge. It’s tested our relationship’s forbearance although we’re improving at recognising one another’s sources of irritation, even when we each become one, hah!
For sure! Please visit our post here. Our ‘Top Ten’ page is currently devoted to South American offbeat travel hotspots we’ve experienced firsthand: ‘Must Rides’, ‘Must Sees’, ‘Must Dos’ across the continent along with some ideas for those essential double duty pannier items.
You’ll also find our Top Ten ‘Reasons to Travel’ as well as ‘Rider Tips’ aimed in part for women either in the ‘thinking stage’ of getting into riding or those relatively new to being astride two wheels.
We plan for very little. Rightly or wrongly, we don’t have much idea beyond a day or two. Mostly because we’ve travelled enough to know that after investing lots of energy into research, planning the details, making reservations and the like, our best laid plans will always change. We’ll get distracted in one place, a road will close forcing us in another direction, an invite to a street party will ping its way in our direction or we’ll meet someone who points the way down another path entirely and sure enough, what we had painstakingly undertaken as desk-research, becomes pretty pointless. However, that’s not to say we don’t love route planning on a daily basis using good old fashioned maps, our Garmin Zumo 660 and the free to download mobile phone applications: Maps with Me, Waze, Ride with me, Eat Sleep Ride and Rever.
What kind of planner are you?
Travelling involves one step: Going. When planning for a trip, I read on Life Remotely that are three types of planner: ‘Do lots of research and plan everything!’ No matter how scant or long-haul the trip, some people simply like to map every detail. Plan to the nᵗʱ degree, it’s half the fun for some and certainly gets the travel juices in full flow. Or ‘Do lots of research, but plan nothing.’ Personally, I like to know a little about where I’m going, leaving some element of surprise; I’ve travelled enough to know I’ll probably end up changing my best laid plans. Spontaneity is king after all.
Lastly, ‘Do no research and plan nothing!’ Absent of all inhibition and homework: admittedly, planning can make a fantastic procrastination tool. Moreover, shelves of travel memoirs all share the same common denominator: the fruits of serendipity, which are unquestionably sweet. But whichever camp you might sit, it completely depends on you: your comfort zone and your preferred means of travel. There’s no wrong or right, I’d advise doing whatever feels comfortable for you. It’s your trip, your adventure and it’s up to you to make your own experiences.
Are you ever concerned about the security of the bikes?
For sure. The bikes are akin to having children: they’re expensive and you’re always worrying about them. Not always but they can be. Because they’re so much more than our transport from A to B, they’re: our ticket to ride, happiness and freedom; our homes (really, wherever we kick the side stands down); our ‘Get out of jail’ free cards; magnets for meeting great people; and so much more. Leaving them unattended for a hand of time has to meet a pretty secure set of criteria. Apart from feeling comfortable in the place the bikes are left, we’ve got a lock and homemade bike covers from Ripstop material, the latter being akin to invisibility cloaks. You’d be amazed how they disappear once the covers are on.
What about your personal safety on the road?
Neither of us have ever felt threatened on the road. We’ve travelled through most countries in South America and are currently cruising through Central America. Never had a problem, touch wood! Big city common sense and a pretty well honed danger antennae have served us well. We don’t generally ride through war zones, at night, the renowned ‘dodgy’ areas to any big city or guerrilla-infested jungle for example. Fellow travellers on the road are a great source for learning about the ‘don’t go’ places.
What are the bare essentials required for moto-travel?
We are constantly evolving, adding and thinning out our equipment. Less is always more but it depends on: where you’re headed, what bike you’ll be astride over which terrain, and of course your personal preferences. There’s no clear cut answer here but there are a tonne of published gear lists online, which act as a great starter for ten.
What online resources do you love using?
- Hunting down campsites: iOverlander.com is excellent.
- Negotiating room rates: Horizonsunlimited.com is supreme for locating ‘bike-friendly hostels’ and connecting with salt-of-the-earth folks, as is hostelworld.com,
- Renting out a room: motostays.com and airbnb.com is a fabulous accommodation alternative; both sites connects homeowners who rent out their homes to you, at a fraction of the cost of a hotel room.
We’ve also put together a more comprehensive Links & Resources section, here.
Are there any female rider resources out there?
Actually, I put something together here.
· Maps for me – excellent offline maps worldwide with many points of interest.
· Waze – accurate GPS navigation tool in 3D.
· Skycode Translate – translates whole paragraphs into another language.
· Duolingo – a great linguistic tool while learning another language.
· Word Lens – hover your phone camera over foreign text and marvel at the English translation.
Because space is such a premium on a motorcycle, I converted from Nikon to Sony due to not only its ability to pack into half the space in the tank bag–which is waterproof and easily accessible–but foremost its phenomenal functionality. It’s much lighter too, so the bike and I have a lot less load to haul around. For me, my current Sony configuration is a complete game-changer from what I was previously using: I adore taking photographs with it, which makes honing my craft an overwhelming joy.
Digital SLR mirrorless camera:
Sony 16-35mm Vario-Tessar T FE F4 ZA OSS E-Mount Lens (in USD or GBP).
What do you use to edit your images and footage?
Adobe Lightroom 5 and Apple Final Cut Pro.
Do you have any supporters?
Yes, we are overjoyed to be in partnership with these fantastic organisations: here.
We rode from our old doorstep in Nottingham, took the Euro Star to France and then went with our bikes on a Grimaldi container ship from Antwerp, Belgium to Montevideo, Uruguay. Please see here for more details. Sadly, I understand it’s no longer possible to roll on, roll off with your bike(s), however, Grimaldi are still freighting motorcycles, camper vans, 4x4s and other overlanding vehicles.
What were the savings involved in shipping out of Belgium with your bikes on the container ship?
First off, although flying yourself and shipping the bike is often cheaper than shipping you with the bike, it’s still cheaper than air freighting both body and wheels.
Jase loathes flying, so it avoided the cost of him being irrationally nervous for hours on end. And while we were on the ship, we periodically checked on the bikes, a good idea when the external docking staff came aboard to help offload cargo—keeping an eye on our wheels paid dividends as they were stored on a regular deck with all the main cargo. There were strapped down without a cage and left out for anyone to come and have a nosy. They did too, and unscrewed a couple of low value items.
Foremost, if there was a delay with the container ship (and friends of ours were stuck on their sailing for six weeks), that would’ve saved us a fortnight’s accommodation in Buenos Aires (had we have flown), while going back and forth in waiting for the bikes come ashore. Pleased that we bypassed that hassle.
Another cost avoided was the time it took to deal with the bureaucracy of paperwork. By being with our bike on the ship, we simply rolled on and rolled off. It took 30 MINUTES to clear immigration in Monte and we were off. No extra fees in paying someone to unload the crate, no fees for immigration—we were all set in literally no time at all. And no requirement to be semi-fluent in a different language to retrieve the bikes off the ship, which would’ve been nightmarish for folks like us who had zero Spanish two years ago.
So yes, for us shipping out with bikes was a two wheeled no brainer but it wouldn’t suit everyone—nothing ever does, right?
Yes. For most of us, money doesn’t grow on trees so budgeting, although a chore sometimes is a necessary evil. Budgeting is all about optimising if not maximising your trip. Putting in the effort beforehand is paramount, so start now. We began saving a realistic portion of our jobs’ income two years prior to reach our goal. A budget is your safety net against having to cut your trip short and missing out on all those ‘yearning to see places’. Adhering to a budget with some flex built in will keep you motivated and validate your plans before you leave.
Maintaining a budget on the road will also keep you abreast of your monetary situation and support making better decisions with the least amount of stress. Moreover, fiscally gauging the next leg of your trip without it costing several arms and legs. It takes a little self-discipline but compared to the alternative of cancelling the trip or pushing your trip start date back, it’s a no brainer. Creating and managing a travel budget is the same process whether you’re planning a fortnight holiday, a six-month road trip or an epic round-the-world journey. The process is the same, only the numbers change.
What defines a hardcore moto-traveller?
We had so much to say on the subject, we devoted a page to it, here!
What’s been the best moment so far?
A challenge to choose just one. Aside from the interactions we’ve had with folk largely because of the bikes, one of my most memorable moments was the day I started to relax on the ripio. I gave Pearl a handful in third and started feeling a newfound buzz. Something just clicked; I think I had a mini-epiphany..! Off-road riding stopped being my fearsome foe and became a fond friend. Jason’s best moment was drinking in the sight of the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia’s stunning salt flats.
And the worst?
When I unintentionally slaughtered a bird at 45mph on a road in Argentina. The steppe landscape was as featureless as it was flat, we were riding through big sky country yet I still managed to obstruct a bird mid-flight. It flew straight into me, got knocked out on impact and snuffed it instantly. Poor thing, I felt wretched. Jason’s sick-to-the-stomach moment was witnessing the blood sport of a goat being flattened by a reckless support vehicle driver, rescuing our bikes out of the snow. At slow speed, he made zero attempt to dodge this innocent creature whose demise could so effortlessly have been avoided. Grrrgh!
How would you summarise the trip so far?
We’ve ridden 33,000 miles through 17 countries over 21 months to date. Those have been superb. You’ve guessed we’re not exactly in a hurry. We’re merely happy to wend our way up the Americas at a gentle pace and wring out as much adventure along the way. ‘Slowly does it’ keeps us mindful, not just to the places but foremost the people we might have otherwise raced past.
How are you finding the riding?
Hah! Careering over South America’s gravel for hundreds of miles has surfaced some dual frustrations—initially it was the Tortoise and the Hare scenario. What was bone-jarringly punishing for me was assuredly pleasing for Jason. Admittedly I should thank him for his largely unfaltering patience in allowing me to keep pace, even if he does occasionally tell me to “Suck it up, princess.” One day he’ll eat my dust. Jason loves blasting over the slidy stuff, it is fantastic fun. I’ve now developed a riding stamina akin to Jason’s to savour all day in the saddle. It’s biking bliss.
Do you meet many people riding motorcycles?
During sporadic intervals on the road, we’ve met someone and they’ve taken us into their home that is their sanctuary. We’ve transitioned from strangers to amigos, been made to feel comfortable and at ease in no time at all. It’s taken us totally unawares to just how unconditionally kind people are and have been; drawing us into the nucleus of their social circle, friends and family alike. I love it when others especially kids gravitate toward the bikes, are curious to find out more and share in the passion that comes with two-wheeled travel. Even oncoming drivers flash their lights and wave wildly upon seeing us ride past, some go berserk. It’s the people that are contributing most to this trip, without a doubt.
Is the experience better or worse than you expected?
South America has surpassed every single expectation. To Jason’s relief, I never knew I’d love spending more time off-road than on the smooth. It’s always off the highways in backcountry that we’ve been favoured with mini-adventures. Blazing through sandy trails, blasting over gravelly roads, spotting 17 condors soaring over lakes as big as cities or being above the clouds atop an Andean landscape studded with glaciers—you can keep the asphalt. Motorcycle travel is also easier than we anticipated.
How is it different to how you imagined?
As stunning as Latin America is, there are unavoidable towns and cities that make it feel too tourist-magnet and European at times. There’s definitely more paved roads than either of us bargained for, which is sad in a way as it can impinge on that ‘in-the-heart-of-the-wilderness’ feeling when riding through jaw-on-the-floor panoramic landscape.
How is it better?
The spontaneity of it all I think. We wake up never knowing what’s in store for us, who or what we’ll encounter. Individuals we’ve met randomly are opening our minds to a planet of different perspectives. Argentina’s people have left a lifelong impression on us; we’re possibly becoming the most contented and friendliest versions of ourselves. It’s the most satisfying way we’ve travelled to date, overwhelming and grueling at times—but it’s the balance of high highs and low lows that somehow feeds the soul all the more. We’re thriving on it—it’s addictive.
Any regrets about how you’ve done it?
Due to the cargo ship’s availability we arrived in South America’s autumn/winter that proved nippy at best and numbingly cold at worst. It’s a tall order packing minimum clothing for all seasons, tons of tech and camping equipment; fully laden bikes are a pain to pick up and we drop them pretty often. Jason would opt for soft luggage next time round.
What were you initially most afraid of?
I had trepidation about having a major ‘offy’ on Pearl whereas in the back of Jason’s mind, he dreads giving up an adventurer’s life on two wheels and returning to his old one.
Where’s your favourite place that you have visited?
Could we give you our top five instead? Choosing just one is nigh on impossible; in no particular order:
- the Antarctic Peninsula (purest place on the planet);
- Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador (at one with Pachamama, Mother Earth);
- Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia (most surreal landscape to date);
- Cordillera Blanca, Huascaran National Park, Peru (spectacular if you’re a glutton for glaciers);
- and Iruya, Argentina (stunning Latin American backwater village).
What item can you not live without?
I’d say our handmade ‘beer can’ stove as I can’t function without a good cup of coffee, and Jason wouldn’t be without his hammock; he can face anything when not deprived of a decent night’s kip.
What item do you wish you had but haven’t taken?
A Leatherman multi-tool. Of all the items that are double duty, this item trumps everything else out of the water; we could have used one umpteen times over..!
Once we’ve had our fix of and fussy out of the Americas, who knows. If bodies and budget allow, who knows, we may carry on, continue to stay on the Earth’s surface and ride some place else.