Even the renowned motorcycle explorer had a difficult journey between South and North America.
The Darien Gap is an infamous stretch of about 80 miles of thick jungle between Panama and Columbia. It splits the Pan-American Highway in two and effectively prevents land travel between North and South America. The challenges are both political and environmental, and so far have only been overcome by explorers, drug traffickers, and the people who live there.
Helge Pedersen falls squarely into that first category, having traveled 250,000 miles by motorcycle between 1982 and 1992. He didn't even know what the Darien Gap was during his first trip until some journalists he talked to told him about it. "Oh, that sounds like fun," he thought. He had no idea what he was getting himself and his BMW R80G/S into. Pedersen got a referral to a guide, and together they plotted a route roughly following a seasonal trade route the natives use. He teamed up with a German backpacker who had fallen upon some bad luck to cross the gap from Colombia into Panama.
They soon realized they were in for a much bigger adventure than they'd bargained for. Early in the journey, Helge miscalculated a hill climb, popped an unexpected wheelie, crashed, and broke his hand on a rock. Fortunately, ignorance was bliss, and unaware that he'd broken anything he pressed on regardless. He could not have completed the trip without his backpacking companion. Even with his help, the 80-mile trip took 20 days. They worked so hard each day that they exhausted their three-week food supply in just two.
The jungle took its toll in other ways, too. The insects were relentless, and they were constantly picking ticks off themselves. It was so bad that Helge's legs got infected, requiring a week's worth of antibiotics once they got through the other side to Panama.
Despite the hardships and challenges through the Darien Gap, Helge maintains an extremely positive attitude about long-distance adventure motorcycling. He insists that if you live in North America, and you want to ride in South America, all you have to do is start your motorcycle and head south. Anyone can do it, and you don't need a lot of money. You might want to find a way around the Darien Gap, though.