Two Wheeled Nomad: Homeless On a Bike I read somewhere that life on two wheels frees you from walls and windows. It creates a type of vulnerability...
I read somewhere that life on two wheels frees you from walls and windows. It creates a type of vulnerability that breeds excitement. I couldn't think of a better way to describe my experience. My partner Jason Spafford and I sold our house in Nottingham and most of our belongings in order to finance a once in a lifetime trip ‘bottom up’ through the Americas.
It’s very liberating when you liquidate your assets and pack your life up into a few boxes. It was our time to be as free as birds—to fly through space at the twist of a throttle. We’ve scuba dived around the globe over the last fourteen years together, which can be seen through our photography, videography and travel writing. We’ve got an explorative appetite and it feels good to diversify, integrating our passions into something fresh. Riding from Argentina to Alaska for 12-18 months will be nothing short of flavorful.
We decided on the Americas because neither of us have been--apart from a scuba diving expedition to the Galapagos Islands. A Passage de Carnet is not necessary for traveling anywhere in the Americas and most of the countries we’ll be riding through are fairly stable politically, so this journey seemed like the perfect starting point in which to get a taste of motorcycling adventure.
For £2,400 each, we rode mid-February onto a container ship and accompanied our bikes across the Atlantic from Belgium to Montevideo, Uruguay. The crossing took 27 days, incurring only a two day unscheduled stop to seek permission to unload cargo off the coasts of West Africa and South America.
Friends asked beforehand if we needed to work for our passage or sleep in a container—er, no to both! We saw it as a poor man’s cruise; passengers were secondary to the cargo, although we were assigned a decent cabin with a suite. We were served three meals a day with good table wine and enjoyed the company of two other passengers. It was relaxed and we had ample time to dolphin-watch, indulge in some light exercise inside the basic on-board gym and learn some Latin American Spanish.
We initially planned to be shooting down mid-March at full tilt on Ruta 3 from Uruguay to Ushuaia, the southernmost tip of South America, leaving after a fortnight just before getting snowed in. The pace slowed down thereafter, and we meandered all the way up on the west coast crisscrossing through Argentina and Chile to see the best of both.
Beyond Chile, we’d like to reach Brazil for Iguazu Falls, experience the natural phenomenas of Bolivia and Peru, soak up some greenery in the Amazon and scoot through Central America before hitting the States. Once in the US, we plan to dive the kelp forests in California and visiting Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks will be high on the ever-evolving itinerary. The rurality of Canada and remoteness of Alaska awaits us thereafter.
I’m in the saddle of a 2001 BMW F650GS that’s factory lowered and more affectionately known as Pearl. Sourced on eBay at the right price, I took a gamble. Granted, she appeared to be in better condition in the pictures, although with a bit of hard graft in between umpteen cups of tea, Jason transformed Pearl into a shiny new penny-pun intended.
She's a trusty companion: great fun to ride, additional sump guard over the original belly pan, heated grips and a radiator guard. Although Jason drooled over his R1200 GSA, a brilliant bike ‘two up’ when we toured through Europe, he felt it wasn’t the weapon of choice for the Latin American dirt roads we had in mind. So, he downsized. He now adores his BMW F800GS despite the two niggles he had, which were the rock-hard seat and un-fit for purpose screen. Jason opted for an Airhawk seat, an inflatable cushion that gives him around twice the mileage before his derriere goes numb. Investing in a Touratech fairing cost a pretty penny but it performs well in shielding him from the wind. Jason has further modified his bike with a custom belly pan and heavy-duty engine bars. The F800GS is a tall bike against Jason at 5’ 8”—the engine bars do a remarkable job for the number of times he drops it!
The biggest appeal of a trip like this is meeting travelers, the locals and fellow motorcyclists en route, spending time with new people, sinking into a place and their way of living for a while. En route to Ushuaia for example, we bumped into a brilliant bunch of bikers that went by the name of ‘Old Wild Dogs.’ Because we waved and stopped to chat, a biking couple ended up taking us in for a few days, offering unconditional hospitality and an invitation to their annual motorcycle meet. We got to meet many other Argentinian bikers, ate half a cow and an entire lamb at an asado and salsa with then-strangers-now-amigos for hours on end. It was staggering how such a chance meet led to such a fantastically unforeseen experience. There have been other entertaining and enriching encounters that are sporadic but superb.
We are only four months and 7,000 miles in and already the Argentinian hospitality has touched our lives in a way we never dreamed possible. Personal growth and traveling go hand in hand, we are becoming the most contented versions of ourselves.
The terrain thus far has been pretty wide-ranging. We endured the ‘ripio’ that is South America’s loose gravel often accompanied with corrugated, rugged tracks, sandy trails in national parks and disused sections of Ruta 40 to pristine smooth tarmac and concrete. Initially it was grueling for me as a relatively new rider, and it was a challenge not to become crestfallen from not being able to keep up with my partner whose off-road prowess would leave me eating his dust. I’m becoming more confident and at ease on the loose, slidy stuff now—it’s taking a while but what’s the rush?
Off the Container
Disembarking the container ship mid-March, we rode out of Uruguay into Argentina. From Buenos Aires we zoomed at full throttle down Ruta 3 to Tierra del Fuego. Bumped into a friendly biker Juan Pablo in Ushuaia—the farthest south one can go by road—treating us to a two week guided tour, just because he liked us.
We then cruised up Chile fitting in a 5-day hike in Torres del Paine National Park, and zigzagged back into Argentina via Los Glaciares National Park. We traveled up to El Chaltén to marvel at Mount Fitz Roy located in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, and bounced over the rugged mind-blowing Carretera Austral—Chile’s Ruta 7.
We crisscrossed back into Argentine, Patagonia, and got royally snowed in up at Caviahue, a flyspeck mountain village that sits inside an extinct volcano. We took a respite with a couple of Argentinian bikers in Mendoza, re-entering Chile in July to source spares and make repairs. After clocking 9,000 miles on August 1, having only seen 3 out of South America’s 12 countries, we are slowly making our way to Bolivia…in our own good time.
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Austin Vince and Sam Manicom, hands down. Vince zoomed around the globe twice over, before Ewan and Charlie without any support vehicles carrying the bare minimum of gear. His wife Lois Pryce also gets my vote by riding through the Americas by herself. And Sam Manicom’s Tortillas to Totems left me feeling that riding through the States should be on everyone's 'bucket list' – all living legends.
In terms of gear, we carry lightweight camping equipment including a homemade ‘beer can’ stove, an adopted idea from Tom Allen’s bicycle trip. When we feel like wild camping, we can just push the side-stands down somewhere discreet for the night and pour a glass of red.
In terms of tools, we’ll have only those in which to carry out basic maintenance and repair, as space is at an absolute premium in two 38-liter Metalmule panniers and a roll bag each. Our specialist tools include a chain breaker/riveter, Motion Pro tool kit and bead breakers for changing tires. Headlight bulbs, clutch and brake levers, brake pads, oil filters, clutch and throttle cable repair kit comprise our spares. A bag of zip ties, spare nuts and bolts, fuses, spare electric cable, gaffa tape and metal putty as the useful odds and ends.
How to Follow
We’re relaying our adventures on an online travelogue as they unfold and with the help of three GoPros and a Nikon D800, capturing the locals, dramatic landscapes, diverse cultures and wildlife of the Americas. We both love traveling on and offroad, in and out of the saddle; shooting aerial footage from our quadcopter—a remote controlled aircraft that enables a GoPro camera to film as it flies – is another great way of encapsulating the essence of why we should all travel.
READ MORE: How To Plan A Motorcycle Trip | RideApart
We're now homeless, without offspring and 9-5 jobs—what better time to embrace some life-changing adventure? Over the next 18 months, we’ll wend our way up the Americas from Patagonia to Prudhoe Bay. We’d like to see as many countries by means of the scenic routes off road where possible, trying our best to avoid the freeways and highways. I have no idea when we’ll get to Alaska or what we’ll do when we arrive; I only know that the world is open and calling. Life is for living, why not live it loudly?