PEOPLE OFTEN WANT to know the highs and lows of our planned trip around the world. At time of writing, Dave and I are on a plane to Cape Town, South Africa, where we will find our motorcycles, sent a few days ahead of us on a flight from Vancouver. We have yet to experience the second half of our travels by motorcycle to some of the earth’s most spectacular destinations, so we have yet to discover even more of the highest of highs.
But certainly a trip involving approximately 100,000 km by motorcycle will have some challenges. Because of our chosen mode of transportation, those challenges can often come in the form of mechanical breakdowns.
I was quite proud to find a used BMW G650GS in Vancouver to replace my 250cc Kawasaki Super Sherpa before we left. The 650 was a 2009 and had less than 5,000 km on the odometer. I was even more proud to buy it from a guy who felt it was “too much bike” for him. The 650’s engine would surpass my 250 and would feel more solid on the highways we planned to travel. I was tired of getting nearly blasted off the road on my 250 when even a smart car would pass me, never mind the tornado-like effect felt from a passing semi.
Above: Heather's Black Stallion took a lot of tender love and care from Dave when it broke down.
I nicknamed my 650 the Black Stallion after its many attempts, mostly successful, to toss me from its saddle. It took some getting used to this much bigger, heavier bike, but I felt in time we could co-exist. I couldn’t wait to travel around the world on this beast, attaching stickers of everywhere it would go on my hard case panniers; Baja, Peru, Argentina ... Dave and I had the idea to retire our world-encrusted bikes as bragging rights in the garage of our future home.
There was something peculiar about the Black Stallion, however. It seemed my 650 didn’t want to wear the world’s crust. Dave developed a deep dislike for it before we even left, finding it incredibly hard to find and fit parts. The Stallion never seemed to accept our love and attention to outfit it into a more ideal bike, likely accepting itself the way it was. Dave tried everything to turn my steed into a more travel-worthy ride but the truth was, it just wasn’t up to the task. The clearance was far too low, its power-to-weight ratio inadequate, and boy was it moody. My bike began to feel like an abusive relationship; one minute the stallion would cruise swiftly along as though it wanted me to enjoy myself. The next it would be lazy and mean, bucking like it was tired of carrying my weight.
We had no idea how to make the Black Stallion happy. We bestowed it with expensive gifts like better suspension, upgraded forks, a custom-designed seat — yet it would break down in the most inconvenient places:
• A hundred kilometres from water when its radiator blew in northern Peru;
• Far from any auto shop when the rear suspension broke in Bolivia;
• A great distance from town when the side stand switch was destroyed in Alaska, auto-shutting off the motor at highway speeds.
My 650, which I was so proud to have found on my own, was a lemon. We renamed it Frankenbike for all the slap-dash, put-together parts it had after more than 50,000 km of riding. Still, it reluctantly persevered for a while. I rode the Stallion all the way to Ushuaia, Argentina from Revelstoke, B.C., then through the Yukon and Alaska.
Above: Heather heads off into the sunset after her amazing world tour with Dave on their motorcycles.
But it was in this True North paradise in the summer of 2016 when Frakenbike and I had a serious one-sided discussion; it was time to break up. Dave and I were on our way back from reaching the world’s northern-most road accessible point in Deadhorse, Alaska along the remote and rugged Dalton Highway, when Frankenbike tossed in the towel. I was asking too much of this bike and it had finally had enough. There was no side stand anymore, so I’d have to wait for Dave before I could mount and dismount the 500 pound beast. The radiator was held together with epoxy and bailing wire and still it leaked and overheated. The engine was compromised after a fuel-up had been found to contain diesel. The starter was trashed and the battery needed to be replaced. Repairs aside, neither Dave nor I were comfortable taking the bike on the next half of our journey, which would take us to far more remote and unserviceable places such as Africa and Siberia.
I couldn’t take the risk of the Stallion stranding us again. It was time to replace my ride with a younger, more energized model. A model with a better body. It sounds harsh but the older one had to go.
With considerable mental turmoil, I dropped a lot of budgeted trip money on a new F800GS at the BMW dealer in Fairbanks, Alaska. Without question I wanted the same style of bike. Nothing beats the BMW adventurers for a trip of this magnitude I just needed one that wanted to travel the world.
Today, the Stallion, a.k.a Frakenbike, sits forlornly in the garage at Dave’s dad’s after being shipped from Alaska. Upon our return, Dave and I will spend some time and money to fix it up to be back on the market. After all, there’s someone for everyone, even Frankenbike, who will likely be happiest rolling along paved roads, where it won’t have to work so hard and can feel young again.
Although I have already fallen madly in love with the many talents and qualities of the F800, it saddens me I couldn’t complete my trip around the world on the same bike I started with. That would have been the kind of souvenir no foreign market in the world could create.
Dave and I want to present our trip realistically. It’s not always positive but when we’re asked what the highlights have been thus far, we say “It’s been everyday between the lows.”
And the lows have been few and far between.
Summary of Heather's trip:
• 56,045 km ridden from Canada to Argentina and back through Alaska, the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
• 15 countries visited.
• 2 flats for Dave’s front tire, one for the rear. Heather none.
• 16 tires used in total to date: Heather: 5 rear, 3 front. Dave: 4 rear, 4 front. 5 different tire brands used.
• $3,371 CDN spent on tires alone
• $20 CDN ($40 Peruvian Sols) paid to angry Peruvian men who didn’t like us camping on their land.
• $14 CDN overpaid to Honduras border guard, likely a scam.
• 1 item stolen (GoPro snatched off Heather’s bike at Colombia/Ecuador border).
• 126 nights in a tent: 101 free, 25 paid.
• 95 nights in a hotel and hostels.
• 98 nights staying with friends and family.
• 4 nights on boats/ferries.
• Battled 80 kmph side winds in Mexico.
• 140 k/ph was Heather’s top-speed in Salar de Uyuni (salt flats) in Bolivia. Dave’s was 164 k/ph.
• 1405 km was our longest day ride to-date from Salt Lake City, Utah to Arlington, Washington.
• What you need for you dream trip: Determination, Curiosity, Mode of travel, Funds.
• What you don’t need: Friend and family support. Be a world-class photographer/videographer, social media prowess, job security and scads of money.
• Do’s and Don’ts:
Dos: Get off the bike, integrate, talk to locals and other travellers, smile a lot, find out entry requirements well in advance, think of local customs and oblige.
Don’t: Bribe, give candy or money to kids, skimp on travel insurance, listen to negative nay-sayers.