Monday, March 31, 2014

Matt's solo ride from Ecuador to Canada

Hi everyone. It’s been months since the end of this amazing adventure, but I never put up my final post, capturing my solo travels from Ecuador to Canada. I’m pretty proud of this feat, so I figure it’s worth sharing the details of the four months between Ferg, Atley and Wendy leaving me in Ecuador, and rolling back up Draper Road in Fort Mac.

GoPro selfie, in the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina, when no one was looking. I rode most of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was great.

Heading out to go Splake fishing with Kari and Rosie in Atikokan, Ontario.

Some beaten-up old barn in Mississippi that Uncle Trev probably slept in once.
Riding alone has always felt cathartic, relaxing and satisfying to me. When Atley and I got sick of each other’s faces in the state of Washington, 3 weeks into the trip, we split and rode solo for a week, to come back refreshed and excited to be living the dream. Motorbikes are basically built for one person, and without others around, your powers of independence are never more evident. You don’t need to ask anyone anything - for help, directions, food or water, you just ride: in any direction, on any road, at any time, in any gear you want, to any town you want, through any place you want. It’s fantastic. As lonnng as you don’t get lonely. That sucks. I’m not sure how or why, but luckily it seems that after just a few minutes of me feeling lonely, something awesome tended to happen. Maybe it was attitude, maybe luck, or maybe it was that ball of protective white light the hostel witch in Guatemala wrapped Ferg and I in, hard to say. But all up, when the time is right for you, solo motorcycle travel is a truly rewarding experience.

Cruisin' round the beautiful north shore of Lake Superior in Ontario, trying to connect to Ferg on the helmet radio.

The Smoky Mountains in North Carolina are full of awesome motorbiking roads. I was invited to join in a yearly family reunion one evening by some kind folks and had a great night partying with them.

There had been a shooting in Washington DC 2 days before I got there, so I posed for this photo and ran for cover.
After about 11 months of our dual sporting exploration of North, Central and South America, I said goodbye to Atley, Wendy and Ferg in Ecuador, and rode north through the Ecuadorian mountains, into the visually spectacular southern Colombia. I was chilling out in Cali, at Motolombia Mike’s hostel, when I saw a dirty looking chap on a DRZ400 pull up to chat with Mike. I wandered over and listen to him recounting his impact with a local bus days earlier, in a pleasant southern American drawl. Eric was on a back-road, solo adventure, with no plan or direction in mind. He’d taken 18 months to get from Tennessee to Colombia, and had paid for a bed 4 times in that time. Needless to say his bike gear was a little strong on the nose, but he is an absolute gem to talk to, and we had some great chats over the next couple of days in between working on our bikes. Since then he’s connected me with some wonderful people and I consider him a great friend of mine. He's still on the road now, somewhere. Hi Eric!

I caught these creeps trying to pry open a 150 year old grave. They just laughed and did this stupid pose.

Looking across the awesome Mississippi River into Louisianna from Natchez.

Eric's brother Jeff, his wife Tara and their daughter Rachel, in the wonderful town of Chatanooga, Tennessee.
I continued riding north, and soon found myself in the small town of Zipaquira, near Bogota. There I met up with Danny, who’d offered to give me a job as a motorbike mechanic in Medellin. He was there to help run Kawaday - a day where Kawasaki books out the national road race circuit in Colombia, and lets their customers ride their bikes on a race track. They also bring all the current model bikes to be demo’d. Danny told me this, and that he’d put my name was on the list to ride the demo bikes! Score! I had 4 sessions on 4 different amazing bikes that day, and lovvvvved it. Riding a motorbike on a race track feels like you’re using the bikes exactly as they were intended, and years of video games taught me the racing lines I needed to maintain decent speed round corners. Danny had a large group of riding friends there with him, of whom about 10% spoke English, but who all took me in as one of their own immediately. This was to be the trend for my whole time in Medellin: almost all I met welcomed me to their great country, and handed me food, beer or motorbikes, in various exciting combinations.

On my second day of work in Medellin Edwin told me that we'd be riding motocross the next day. Perfecto.

Edwin, myself and Danny preparing Danny's bikes to race. Such a great experience.

Some of my Colombian friends, out for some drinks in the evening after a race day.

Hayley and I on a ride day in Colombia.
Colombia is a huge, beautiful, troubled country. The northern end of the Andes Mountains, in the tropical, equatorial environment, makes for a lush, green, thickly-jungled landscape, and allows easy growing of fruit, vegetables and coca. The difficulty of traversing this mountainous terrain slowed the development of the country back in the day, and the ease of growing and high price of selling coca, made many farmers rich. But with drugs came money, and with that violence, and the 1970s and 80s saw an all out war between drug cartels and the government. Medellin was a warzone, filled with carbombs, shootings, hunting of policemen and poverty. Amazingly, over the last 30 years, the government has won the war, and pushed the violence back into the mountains, giving the country back to its people, allowing it to grow and prosper, bringing in manufacturing, peace and tourism. After the 6 week tour of the country I did with Atley, Ferg and Wendy, I would have sworn the country was completely safe. Alas, my next 2 months there, living with the locals, showed me that the guerrilla war is indeed battling on, with gun fights, casualties, crime and unrest running rampant certain towns and areas. The locals are so desensitised to this, after decades of violence, that I never once heard a conversation about it (not that my Spanish was any good!). I asked many questions however, and they never hesitated to give me their view of it all, with down-turned eyes and a shake of the head. My conclusion is that Colombian travel is entirely doable, but must be done with eyes and ears wide open. Be aware of the state of affairs before you go, and more importantly, while you’re there. My mate Rob and his KLR got stuck for 3 days, just 200km North of Medellin, in a car-burning, machinegun-toting highway blockage staged by angry locals protesting against the government, yet everyone else I know sailed through there with no problem. Perhaps it was his haircut.

It rained on me every day for 5 days between Miami and New Orleans. I learned to find good hiding spots from that tropical rain. And to dislike Florida.

North coast of Lake Superior. Get some!

Kari and Rosie launching their ship into the wild lake waters of western Ontario to hunt for our dinner.
I fell into being an apprentice motorbike mechanic easily. I loved being around the bikes, and didn’t mind washing bikes or passing tools. I was fully absorbed watching the bikes come apart and go back together, and was always keen to jump in and do whatever tasks I felt comfortable with. The language was a constant barrier. Pepe speaks a little English, but Edwin and Alex speak none. I’d been learning Spanish for 2 years by then, but when one word of the sentence is unknown, often the meaning of the whole statement becomes uncertain. This is the slow burn frustration of being immersed in another culture. If someone says “It’s behind the desk lamp,” and you don’t know the word for desk lamp, you’re left staring stupidly at the desk, the box and the shelf, wondering where to start looking. If someone says, “They’re going to buy Pedro’s bike for her,” and you think she’s buying your bike for Pedro, you’re going to have a very funny look on your face. If someone says, “Go get Juan’s bag from Edwin’s car,” and you stand there and nod, unmoving, because you think Juan’s gone to do it, everyone shakes there head and says, “Guevon,” (dumbass). But I suppose these are the frustrating, confused roads one must walk to learn a language. Unfortunately, in the end it affected my enjoyment of the experience and made me feel isolated. Even though my Spanish was improving daily, I yearned to communicate at the high level I’d taken for granted all my life. Thus I carried on with my plan to leave Latin America and after two months in Colombia, my motorbike was loaded onto a cargo plane in Bogota, and flown to Miami, Florida.

The Colombians glad-wrapping the bike before the flight to Miami. The shipping was an easy process thanks to the great cargo company, and the glad-wrap kept the ham fresh and slime-free.
So I spun wrenches in Danny’s motorbike workshop in Medellin for the first month, but after a hand injury at motocross, spent the second month mostly on the front porch of Humberto’s (Danny’s Dad) drinking Aguardiente in the sun with 70 year old Colombian men or swinging in the hammock at Alejandro and Cata's house, drinking their beer and eating delicious ribs. All were first-rate experiences. I look forward to returning there again to see my friends. Aguardiente is fire water. It tastes like aniseed. Kind of like Sambuca, but not as strong. They keep it in the kitchen, to incorporate exercise into their drinking, so they have to keep getting up and going inside for a drink. And so as not to get smashed, because they only drink it straight, with a lick of lime afterwards.

Humberto taking me out for a drive. Coolest dude ever. He's 72 years old or something, and still rides a motorbike.
My last morning in Colombia, overlooking Zipaquira. 

Humberto and Gordo, my drinking buddies and hosts in Medellin. They really liked my travels.
I have now slept in more random beds than I can possibly remember, so i'm no longer phased by this whatsoever. I sleep long and deep on almost any bed, couch or floor. There was a comical period however, when I’d wake in the night and my barely functioning brain would turn the unfamiliar shadows in the room into shapes of lunging predators, stabbing and grasping at me. I didn’t like that so much. When I was back in Melbourne in the middle of the trip for my brother’s wedding, sleeping at my mum’s house, I suddenly sat up in the middle of the night, scoured the dark room, and said out loud, “Atley? Where’s Atley!?” He was in Costa Rica. Luckily these night terrors stopped for me, but I hear he still cries out for me in the night.

Super chill times in New Orleans. And so much amazing music.

The Tennessee River is pure whisky.

Smoky Mountains lagoons.
My ability to sleep comfortably and well in new rooms and beds carried over to daytime locations too. After a few hours on the bike, I had very little trouble stumbling over to a bus stop, park bench or even side of the road, to lay down and drift off into a deep, rejuvenating Latin American powernap, usually to be woken by the roar of a truck passing or wondering if anyone was messing with my ride.

I explored the 9th Ward in New Orleans, looking for evidence of Hurricane Katrina, but it all looked pretty rebuilt. This was the worst building I saw. Got air conditioning but.

Chatanooooga! The place in the middle there is a mental institution. Riverside luxury for everyone in Chatanooga.

Kari and Rosi's dad, before I began the monotonously flat, boringly cold 4 day ride from Ontario to Fort McMurray.
Not that I ever really doubted it, but people are, in general, very nice! I suppose certain situations bring this out more than others, and motorbike adventuring seems to be one of them. We were treated very well the whole way down, but once on my own, people seemed more comfortable to chat with me and offer me a helping hand. (I blame this 96% on Atley's moustache, and 4% on Ferg's biceps.) Hayley and her family hosted me on and off in Miami for a couple of weeks, taking me to Quay West and out on an air boat to play with gators, and were incredibly generous and wonderful to me. Alejandro and Cata gave me a brace for the torn ligament in my thumb. Bob in Washington DC bought me lunch and gave me an brand new KLR motorbike tire, because he didn’t need it and I did. Chris from BMW in Charlottesville sold me a barely-used tire off his own bike because he thought I really needed it, and then let me install it, a chain and change my oil in his workshop. Eric organised for me to stay with his sister in Nashville, brother in Chatanooga and gave me great route ideas for the Southern States. Megan protected me from gunfire in Washington DC. Trevor posted on his Yamaha motorbike forum, asking if anyone wanted to host me, which scored me about 15 invitations throughout North America, and also made me a detailed route on Google Maps for me to follow the awesome roads through the Eastern States. Jim taught me to drive his diesel tractor so we could tour his 110 acre farm in Tennessee, bought me dinner, cooked me breakfast and let me ride his Super Tenere motorbike. Patrick cooked me Memphis Barbecue, filled me with beer, and gave me a hilarious night time tour of the surrounding area in his offroad buggy, with no lights on. The following day his 10 year old daughter declared her love for me through a note she placed in my lunch pack, which was pretty cool. Martin cooked me steak, Dave poured me scotch, Bruce toured me around Toronto and Phil gave me his shotgun to shoot skeets with. Kari and Rosie looked after me when I showed up to their house in Northern Ontario sick, fed me, took me riding and fishing, and even fitted my bike with a larger front sprocket, to lower my RPMs on the cannonball run of the Canadian Prairies that I was about to cross.

Patrick, Dianne, Logan and Madison were excellent hosts in Mississippi. As you can see, Patrick was not too sure about Madisons photo poses, but she didn't care.

Jacqui and her friends took me hiking in the Appalachians, MBA style. 

Jon and his mate from Pensilvania took me for a rip on the curly roads in the area and were stoked to hear of life on the road.

And they were an entertaining lot.
The conclusion is simply this: travel is great. Get out of your comfort zone, the world is out there. All you have to do is go, and you’ll see it, learn from it, and drink in the wonder that happens every single day. Yes, there can be hard times, but they often turn into some of the best experiences of your life. I was privileged with a generally trouble-free trip, with interesting, fun, resourceful travel companions, incredible sunny days, changing, wonderful, fascinating landscapes and a smiling person always around the corner. Of course hind sight shows me that there is not a single reason to have any regrets about taking on an adventure like this, but I had 2 friends incur major injuries from the same travels that I undertook. Motorbiking is an inherently dangerous activity, whether you’re sliding off a gravel cliff in Peru, or just testing out your mate’s bike in your street. It is also hard, tiring, sweaty, exhausting, laborious, challenging, amazing, fun, exciting, involved and the best way I have ever traveled. All up I rode my bike 48,000 km on this trip. I went to 11 countries and I was on the road for 15 months. I ate lots of tacos and hardly ever went to supermarkets. Funnily enough, I still do both these now. I had 2 birthdays on the trip and I met hundreds of amazing people. I really liked motorbiking before I started this trip, but now I love it so bad I want to slowly, repeatedly smoosh your face into your keyboard until we spell the word Kawasaki out with your squished up gob. It isn’t for everyone, but it sure is for me. MOTORBIKES!

Jim from Tennessee was a fine host.

The Appalachians kinda look like Wilson's Prom from the top.

Phil is not a redneck, he just likes farming corn, shotguns, beer, trucks and racist jokes.

Phil's Sweedish parents were yet more fine hosts for me on my travels across Canada.
I’d like to thank everyone who wrote us emails and followed out blog. Technology these days is amazing, and between the handlebar–mounted GPS, the bike-to-bike communicators with the blue-toothed iTunes, wifi on our iPhones, Google Maps on our laptops, head mounted GoPros and telekinetic powers, it’s been terrific to be able to share our journey, with so many people, in so many places in the world, so easily. Thank you Internets. And of course, thank you to all the hundreds of people that helped us along the way. You know who you are. You’re awesome. Especially you Dr Strange Love.

From Matt.


  1. Awesome midnight reading, full of positivity and enthusiasm for life. Rad.

    1. Cheers Matt! What a privilege it was.