Until There Are No More Roads to Follow

Greg and Jess at a concert at the park

The planning started for me four years ago as I neared the end of my first motorcycle trip, which took me from Los Angeles to the end of the Pan-American Highway in Panama. By the end of the six tumultuous months of that trip I was exhausted of breakdowns, completely out of money, and inspired as never before at discovering my true passion and the knowledge that so much of North America and all of South America and many places besides were left to me to explore by motorcycle.

The plan was to do the next trip alone as I had done the first one and this time to have the right bike and the appropriate gear and the knowledge and experience to do it ‘better’ (whatever that I understood that to mean at the time). Then I met Jessica in South Sudan and we moved together to Liberia and one day she said she would learn to ride a motorcycle and do the trip with me if I invited her. So, of course, I invited her and the new plan became to do the trip together. This new plan started about a year ago when in Liberia I was struggling to engage with my new job and we were both feeling ready to leave Africa for a while and wanting to try something different than aid work. Then we grabbed hold of the idea of the trip and the researching and planning for it became as important as anything else to help get us through that difficult year.

At first the plan was to buy the motorcycles in Los Angeles and ride north to Alaska, perhaps as far as Anchorage or Fairbanks, and then south to Tierra del Fuego at the bottom of South America. Later, when we discovered from our very detailed projections that a couple more months of savings would better place us for a soft landing after the trip, we adjusted the plan to go as far north as Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory of western Canada if the weather and snow conditions allowed it.

I already knew which bikes we would get and I decided from the beginning that I would brainwash Jessica to make her see it my way. This turned out to be easier than I expected since she had a natural proclivity towards enduros – my preferred type of motorcycle – and crotch rockets – that is, sport bikes – and also because the Swiss in her blood gives her an innate appreciation for things that are well made. I decided that we should get BMWs because they are known to be the ideal adventure touring bikes and, after completely bucking the trend in choosing the motorcycle for my first trip, I had no qualms about conformity this time around. Also, on my previous motorcycle trip I had met a young couple from Seattle who let me ride one of their BMWs and I loved how it handled off road compared to my top-heavy and less agile cruiser. Incidentally, in meeting Megan and Marshall, this was the first time I had dared to dream that maybe I could meet a woman willing, able, and wanting to do a motorcycle trip with me. I also should confess to being terribly envious of Marshall then and for long afterwards for having found his Megan.

Jess's new motorbike

So, for Jess we got a G650GS, which is, but for a few changes to the aesthetics, that same motorbike that Megan and Marshall had introduced me to when we met in a small town in Belize several years before. It is an on road-offroad bike, which is classified as an enduro, with a 650cc single-cylinder engine nicknamed a ‘thumper’ for the drumming sound the lone piston makes. This bike as been made mostly the same for more than 10 years and, for performance and reliability, it’s among the best and most popular for round-the-world trips even more extreme than ours is like to be. Her bike is sunset yellow and black and she named it Moxie because for her preparing to do this trip has been all about summoning the ‘chutzpah’.

Greg's new motorbike at BMW Motorcycles of Ventura

For me we got the slightly larger F700GS, which is also an enduro and has an 800cc twin cylinder engine slightly detuned but otherwise the same as the F800GS, which is every bit as beautiful but a bit too tall and expensive, and probably more geared for offroad than I need. My bike is silver and black and she, Penelope, is second only to Jess in beauty and dearness to my heart.

Jess beside Moxie and Penelope

The prep mess

We strapped a large, waterproof duffle bag across the passenger section of the seat and over the panniers on either side. In this we planned to carry our sleeping bags and sleeping pads, kitchenware, tent, camp chairs, and a few other necessities. The duffle bags would be enveloped in a PacSafe, which is a web made of steel cable that can be secured around the duffle and locked to the bike’s frame to make it harder to cut into or to steal. For our immediate protection, we got armored riding jackets and trousers, both with vents to unzip when it is hot, space to layer for when it is cold, and a waterproof membrane for when it rains. We also got riding boots with armed shins, and cold and warm weather gloves, and fullface crash helmets with vents that open to allow air to flow around and cool the head.

Greg and Jess look over an F700GS

After the many months of planning while we earned the money to make it come true, Jess left Liberia in June and went back to Toronto to get her motorcycle license. I left a month later and, when we met in Los Angeles, we made our first visit to a BMW dealership the very next day. Within a week we had struck what we thought was a fair deal and a few days after our bikes arrived at the BMW dealership in Thousand Oaks. Thirty minutes into the ride home from the dealership on my new motorbike with my dad and Jess following behind in the car it suddenly felt like all the long months had gone by very fast and that I had really gotten myself into it now. Realizing that I was into it and it was all happening now, I welled up and became very excited.

Jess’s excitement grew much more gradually because she was very nervous about what she had suddenly over long months gotten herself into. Her new bike was much larger, heavier, and more powerful than the small one she had learned on in Liberia. Also now the thinking about it was giving way to the much harder doing it and she was practically faced with the demands of growing herself to endure long days of riding on freeways and windy highways and through twisty mountain roads. Jess is very sensible when counseling others and considering things outside herself but when she is part of the equation she is an obstinate pessimist. She found a thousand half-truths to convince herself why her experience riding in Liberia was insufficient, inconsistent with, or inapplicable to the riding she would have to do on this new bike and for the trip. Thinking about the need to adapt to this new bike and the effort required to grow her riding skill to meet the demands of the trip brought her a great deal of stress. Anyone who knows Jess knows that, when she gets stressed, she gets fussy. So you can guess she was quite fussy for the first several weeks and this was difficult for us at the same time as I was becoming so enthusiastic in my excitement.

Yes, Jess handles a motorcycle better than she does a baby

Greg and Jess on Pacific Coast Highway

For the first practice trip we went north up the cliff-lined California coast along the twisting Pacific Coast Highway to Monterey and then back south inland past the farms and sun-bleached meadowlands. This went very well despite the long stretches of twisting highways that had given Jess so much anxiety when tracing them on Google Maps and had made her as fussy as ever before.

Jess catches a fish at Rock Creek Lake

Jess and Greg ride Highway 14 in California

The route laid out

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