When you attempt and accomplish a great challenge or adventure, naturally you get a lot of people asking about it. I expected some of the questions: "Did you have fun?" "How did you get the time away from work?" "What was your favorite place?"
But the one that has bothered me has been the most common: "How was it?"
How do you begin to describe a 19,000-mile motorcycle ride from Denver to Tierra Del Fuego, the archipelago south of the southernmost tip of the South American mainland? How can you describe six and a half months, 14 countries, 24 border crossings and 19,000 miles of experiences without writing a book?
My mind contains every experience of every second from the time I left Denver to the time I returned. How do I compress that into a short conversation? And more importantly, am I even the same person I was when I departed Denver nearly eight months ago?
I realize most people want a short version: "It was great!" But the honest truth is that I find it tremendously difficult to relate to people that what we were doing was not a vacation. It was a life changing adventure.
Nineteen thousand miles is literally hundreds of gas stations. My brother and I rode BMW adventure bikes, used on our previous trip: Me a BMW F650 GS Dakar, him, a BMW F800GS. Both bikes were outfitted with Jessie Luggage bags and other modifications. Our partner, Todd, rode a Kawasaki KLR 650. All have similiar 4.5 gallon gas tanks and approximately a 200 mile range. In some areas we had to carry extra gas to make it between outposts. These bikes are smaller than the R1200 GS adventures that many riders choose, with 12-gallon tanks and a huge range. Our gas mileage was around 50 mpg. The bikes weigh approximately 400 pounds dry and probably 500 pounds loaded.
A trip like this is composed of thousands of thoughts, vistas and roads, all fleeting and never to be remembered or seen again. To capture a few photos seems insignificant in the face of this huge mountain of experience. So many views that none of my friends will never see. Memories impressed upon me forever. Even as a photographer, taking photos, I sometimes feel I have no way to really share these things.
How many towns, cities and crossroads have I passed through? How many rainstorms weathered? How many shitty hostels and hotels? How many nights out under the stars? How many passes have I climbed and life or death decisions made? How many houses have I passed? How much traffic have I seen?
How many people have I met? How many times have I had THE conversation with a stranger: "How big is your bike, how much did it cost, where are you from, where are you going?" How many meals shared with strangers and teammates?
How many dogs, cats, pigs, bulls, cows, alpacas, llamas, emus, sheep, goats, ducks, geese, chickens, roosters, ninos, peddlers, mice, rats, birds and oxen have I passed? How many have I seen dead on the side of the road?
It's easy to count the miles, but each mile is an experience, and one that I most likely did not record. How many speedbumps, topes and rumbles have I crossed? How many rivers? Cars passed? How many times have I stopped for a quick snack at an abarrottes, a chance to get off the bike momentarily? How many tiendas, miscellaneas, grifos, gasolinerias, soda or fonda? How many bottles of water and cups of coffee drunk? How many different kinds of beer and how many different ways to prepare chicken? How many places I wanted to stop but could or did not?
How many rotations through the playlist on my iPod? How many times glancing down at the speedometer? Thousands? More? How many times swinging my tired legs over the bike? How many curves to brake into and accelerate out of? How many quick stops and swerves to avoid sudden death? How many times have I ridden at night to find a place to stay in a new and strange place? How many parts broken, repaired or replaced? How many rotations of my wheels? How many rotations of my crankshaft?
How many times have I been cold, wet, tired, hungry, sore, crashed, hot, sweating or dehydrated? How many cold showers? Or no shower? How many times packing my gear the same way? How many times carrying it all into a new place, so that it would not be stolen off the bike, then going to look for a bite to eat and a beer? How many times camping with little food? How many traffic lights, cops, stops for landslides or roadwork? How many skipped signs and ignored laws? How many bars and restaurants passed? How many rocks in the road? How many weeks above 12,000 feet? And very rarely going the same way twice.
And how many wondrous things? Mountains sharp and swirled with clouds. Sunlit patches of lush fields. Lonely houses in distant pastures. Swaths of flowers on surreal hillsides. Deep blue seas, tumbling rivers in impossible gorges. Immense silence broken only by our roaring motors. Roads hanging from the steepest slopes and running straight for unimaginable distances. Terraced pasture and paddy rising dizzyingly around you, waves breaking on rocky shores, and sunsets that simply cannot be described. How many hours in the saddle simply riding through the unbelievable Patagonia? How many campsites found hidden off the side of a side road? Soaring waterfalls, cliffs plunging away down to churning rivers, cable bridges, dark tunnels. Swamp, moor, forest, field, tundra, city, town, suburb, seaside and country. All of this and more is how it was.
Nishan Nalbandian recently completed a six-month, 19,000-mile motorcycle trip called 'Ride to the End of the World' with two other teammates. They rode from Denver to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. This is Nalbandian's second epic mototrip. You can find out more at http://www.mototrip.org.