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.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Episode 16 Video

Hola amigos!

As promised, we now have the Episode 16 video edited and on YouTube, to do our best to satiate your endless motorbike desires!

Remember us?
All has gone to plan since the last blog post. Atley and Wendy travelled south through Peru and met with a motorbike touring company who purchased his bike. As the guy handed over the cash he had 4 grease monkeys dismantling the Black Beauty for parts - a sad ending for Atley's faithful steed. Sorry Rob! They then flew to Aus, got haircuts, mo-cuts, jobs and are currently neck deep in Regular World Bliss! Hope you're reading this at your desks you two!

Standard pre-ride warm ups.
This is what they'd look like without bodies and if you painted their faces black. In Peru.
Ferg hung out in Ecuador until some seedy locals bought his bike for the price he wanted. He then Lollapalooza'd it up in LA, hung out with The Gozz and Co, then jet-setted back to Aus. There he surfed, caught up with his many fans, and then headed over to Europe to meet Jano. He is now cruising down Rhine on a Ferguson Family Wine Tour... Living the dream son!

Walking with Janeo (no motorbike...) in Budapest.
Any excuse to get two wheels underneath me.
Croatian beach holiday.
Boys will be boys.
I'm writing this (Matt) so I'll write in the first person! I hung out in Ecuador with Ferg, Ebru, Ken, Trev and Kon for a while. We toured the lands like the faithful explorers we are, conquered storms, drizzle, sand, iPhone theft, valve adjustments, Full Moon Parties and roadside food joints. Eventually I peeled off for the North, and rode up back up into Colombia. There I spent 2 awesome months completely immersed in the motorbike world, centred around Medellin. I spun wrenches, rode motorcross, rode various bikes on the National Race Track near Bogota and went on many tours of the lands, both long and short. I jumped into the deep end with the language, and fluctuated between gagging on the bottom of the pool and taking spluttered gasps at the surface. In the end the language was a real limitation in my job, working with only Spanish speaking Colombians. Indeed my grasp of the language improved, and I learnt many swear words, much to the amusement of both staff and customers, but when every sentence I heard had a new word in it, I was generally confused to some degree. But I battled on, and still made many awesome friends and had great adventures. Turns out you don't need to have a high level of communication to be friends with someone, which is a pretty great discovery of mine.

Turns out I like riding all kinds of bikes....
Another happy race day!
Edwin and I were Danny's race mechanics a couple of times.
Colombia has many mountains.
In early August I loaded my bike onto a cargo plane in Bogota, Colombia, and it flew to Miami, USA. I'm now on the road, to complete my trip by returning to the amazing place where it all began: Draper Road, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada! I'm currently in Florida, and will tour the eastern states on my way North. If anything interesting happens, maybe I'll do a blog post. Or at least put a few photos up.

After getting my bike safely into the USA, I flew up to Alberta to be a surprise guest at The Caveman Wedding.
Anyway, here it is: Episode 16 of TheMattAtleyFergandWendyShow! Full screen, full volume, full quality, big screen, popcorn and some cold beer to help the joy go down. Cheers!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Final Episode: Colombia to Ecuador

Well here we go: the LAST blog post for The Matt, Atley, Ferg and Wendy Show! As I write this, Atley and Wendy pedal hard to the south of Peru, towards a potential motorbike buyer. Ferg rides the glorious waves of the Ecuador coast, patiently awaiting his bike buyer. And I am in central Ecuador, sorting out an oil leak and more mountain roads. It’s been a long time since the glory of Draper Road in Fort McMurray, Canada. We picked up The New Guy in Vegas, Wendy in Panama and many others made legendary appearances along the way. But now we have gone our separate ways, towards the next chapters of our lives, with the power of accomplishment coursing through our veins. A sad end for sure, but we’ve all got plenty to look forward to, and so much to reflect on. Entonces, I shall hit rewind on this VHS thingo and take it from the top. The place, Medellin, Colombia. The time, 3 weeks ago. Grab yourself a huge bowl of popcorn chums; this is the final episode of The Matt, Atley, Ferg and Wendy Show.

He's really put some girth on those limbs during this trip eh?

One final jump for joy...

Looking a little like Ray?

Wendy with short guy from short boat.
Medellin is a city that has only recently risen from tragic times, into a fascinating, relaxed, and trendy city. 20 years ago there were car-bombs, shootings, grenades and tragedies, but the government has managed to push the violence far back into the remote mountains, and the city is now thriving in comfortable squares adorned with funky street art, a very modern train system and kick-ass motorbike stores. The Kawasaki dealer there (called Kawasaki 10 because it’s on 10th Street) helped us out with all the parts we needed, installed Ferg’s chain while we waited, troubleshot my bike’s annoying electrical issues and let us ride their awesome machines, just for the joy of it all. Danny, the owner, has been a co-host on a weekly live TV show for 8 years, and invited us onto the show to be interviewed about our trip. We wheeled Ferg’s bike into the studio on a Friday night, and had a great time being interviewed on Colombian TV, along with some models and musicians. We supplied them a few of our blog videos and photos ahead of time, and they played the videos as introductions each time the show came back from a commercial break. It was super exciting to rock the nation of Colombia with our travel adventures! Alas we’re yet to get our hands on a copy of the episode, but when we do, we’ll put it straight up on this page.

The set on Enferrados, Danny's show on Colombian TV

Life as TV stars. It's ok I guess...
Random coastal scene from Ecuador
One night at our hostel in Medellin we invited fellow Australian and Intrepid Dual Sporter, Trevor, over for a beer. As we were waiting, someone had the thought that maybe we weren’t allowed visitors at the hostel. I went up to the front desk and told them that my uncle was coming to visit me, and was it ok if he came in for a beer. Thus a nickname was born, and Uncle Trev has enjoyably crossed our paths many times since. Here are some of his adventures: Another of our recent motorbike travel companions is the ever-humble Kornelius Martin, a seasoned yacht captain from Australia, who’s very successfully trying his hand at transcontinental motorbike travel. Perhaps you might have heard of Kornelius’s son, Jesse Martin, when he sailed solo around the world in 2000 at the age of 17. And 2 more good friends of ours we’ve been crossing paths with in South America with are Rosie and Kari from Ontario Canada, Kawasaki die-hards to the bitter end. Check out their adventures here:

Uncle Trev handing out rum shots while on top of a mountain. Pretty standard.

Uncey T and Kari performing non-forum based communication. Not standard. 
 We timed our exit of the city to be on a Kawasaki 10 ride day, and departed the city in style amongst 30 other bikes. We had an awesome day riding south through the Colombian Andes with the huge group, and the three of us each had a chance to ride the sexy 2012 Z1000 sports bike. I fell in love with the incredible power-to-weight ratio and tested the bike extensively on the twisty roads we traversed. All the riders in the group were very pleased to have some international travellers with them, and were very welcoming toward us. Thanks everyone, especially Danny and Kawasaki 10!

Many many bikes getting ready for a ride day

Ride day for Medellin Kawasaki.

2012 Z1000.... is........ so..... awesome....... !
After a meaty lunch on the group ride day, we peeled off and headed to Salento, a small town in the coffee growing region of central Colombia, as per Elske’s 7th commandment. It’s a lush, green, mountainous area and we savoured the cool weather with boxes of Argentinean wine by an open fire and turned a wad of hostel business cards we’d artfully turned into a deck for boozy evening gaming. While checking into our cool hostel, pleasantly located on a mountain ridge, we spied two Dual Sporters slinking towards us. They were dead obvious in their rainproof pants and ruffled hair style, eyeballing our farkles and dreaming up future forum posts. After a few minutes chatting, it turned out that we’d already heard of Ken and Ebru, and they’d heard of us through the incestuous Adventure Motorcyclist grape vine. Once settled in, we shared adventure tales long into the night, about fork oil viscosity, spoke tightening techniques, hostel bathroom water sourcing methods and Ace of Base’s body of work from ‘87-‘91. Ken and Ebru bought their bike in Chile, and have done a 30,000km+ journey through South America, including a 4 day jungle mud mission through the Amazon in Western Brazil, which earns them the rank of Epic Adventurers. Check out their glory here:

Our South American riding buddies, from left: Kon, Kari, Ebru, Ken and Trev
A very clear pool in Peru
From Salento we motored south to the city of Cali, and stayed in Motolombia Land. Mike the owner, runs a motorbike touring company and a hostel, and his internet forum fame has made Motolombia a stopping point for every Dual Sporter who’s ever considered upgrading their doohickey. He patiently helped us out with various requests, and took our photo to be amongst the thousands on the Adventure Motorcyclists wall of fame in his hostel. Having been touring Colombia on motorbikes for 5 years now, Mike advised us of some excellent routes ahead of us, and we wisely took heed. When we left Cali, instead of sticking to the mouldy-old Panamerican down to Popayan, we turned off onto faint dotted tracks on our maps, to be rewarded breathtaking mountain views from a rocky, steep, twisting dirt road that crossed several ranges, went through several tiny, staring villages, and eventually back to Popayan. Massive win! It was another fantastic ride day, and we’ve got Motolombia Mike to thank! Go rent some motorbikes off him and tour Colombia! T-t-t-t-today Junior!

Another awesome day on the adventure roads on Colombia

The New Guy takes some time out to relax curbside
Popayan is another Spanish Colonial town, with white washed buildings, a big centre square, cobblestone roads and literally thousands of Colombians - all speaking Spanish too! Using our cheap hotel there as a base of operations, we ditched our bike luggage and did some day trips in various directions. Trevor and I unknowingly headed into FARC* country and enjoyed their hot springs and fried chicken. We scouted out the start of a back country adventure route towards some ancient stone carvings in San Agustin, but were advised by an informed local that there had been some FARC activity on the road, and in the town we’d had the chicken in, the week before. So we neglected to push into the jungle, and stayed on the main road.

*FARC is one of the Colombian guerrilla armies that have been battling the government and army for the last 70 years. They have been pushed back into the mountains now, but they are still actively at war with the Colombian Army.

Trev and Matt exploring the remote Colombian mountains

Sometimes, not often, we walk places.

A local bus in southern Colombia
Atley, Ferg and Wendy had pushed on into Ecuador while Trevor and I were FARCing around. They toured the huge church at Las Lajas, and as a measure of just how awesome it is, Ferg said, “Even I found it interesting!” I rode the last couple of days of southern Colombia solo, and was in a constant state of awe at the mega scenery that the Panamerican Highway cuts through and over. Massive mountains, gigantic gorges, tunnels cut through mountain rock and striking vistas that would possibly make a normal person thrash their arms about and potentially hurt themselves, from the emotional overload garnished from the enthralling landscape. Every local I spoke to, while pausing for a photo, was very pleased with my appreciation for their land.

Did you say scenic?

The Pan-American Highway in Southern Colombia is simply amazing.

I'm sure many people have crashed on this road, with views like this off to one side...

Las Lajas church

Las Lajas church
The border crossing from Colombia into Ecuador was exactly the same as all the Central American crossings. There were local men lingering, tattered laminated cards dangling around their neck, offering advice on which building to go to next, hoping for a tip. There were ratty English backpackers, wiping at their noses and glancing around nervously. And there were customs officials who didn’t give a FARC. But it’s old hat for us now, and we all swished through with little bother. I bought a month of obligatory motorbike insurance at the first town I came to, for the agreeable sum of $3. Premium gasoline here costs 50c/L and you can buy a plate of rice, beans, meat, salad, with a bowl of soup and a glass of freshly squeezed juice, for $2.50. Ferg is in heaven.

We finally made it to the equator!
In Quito, the capital city, Atley, Ferg and Wendy holed up in a nice hostel and spent a few days Looking At Things, playing pool and generally just taking it pretty easy. Fergs front tyre had started to resemble Bruce Willis' head, so he and Atley moseyed over to see a local moto-tour company to discuss route options, contemplate front sprocket sizes and most importantly to see if Ferg could swindle a used tyre out of them.
Cort, the tour dude, was pleased to oblige, and offered tales of twisty roads, piping hot black coffee in tiny cups and a used Pirelli for five bucks. Following the highly successful mission the gang ventured out into the big bad world to go be tourists. The city of Quito lies beneath a towering mountain range, and for a few bits of silver you can catch a cable car up into the clouds. At the top they were greeted by a British news crew and interviewed on the dangers of Ecuador. Tune in to World News on BBC1 on the first of June if you're missing our smiling faces.

Atley near horse.
Using the route programmed into Atley’s GPS from the touring company guy in Quito, we putted to the edge of the city, to find ourselves at the start of a slightly wet dirt track, heading up a mountain-side. We paused momentarily to push our proverbial glasses up our noses (Ferg literally), then hit the track at maximum rpms! With Wendy twisting her fingers deep into Atley’s kidneys as a sign of her complete satisfaction! We quickly found ourselves in remote, foggy mountains, and we barely saw a soul for the next few hours. But the riding was good and jungley, and we’d committed to wherever it was taking us, so we pushed on with rumbling stomachs until we popped out on a main highway at 2pm. The first food place we found promised trout. “How far are we from the ocean,” we all thought. Then the grinning owner lady beckoned me out a side door, to show me her husband plucking 4 flapping and very much alive trout, from a huge cement trough. She then led me into the backyard to show me their huge trout farm that they’ve been working for the last 20 years, with thousands of trout swimming around in many different tanks. Needless to say, lunch was delicious, and made me wonder what was happening on the Clearwater River in Fort Mac.

Churchy bank building in Popayan, Colombia. Maybe.

We ended up staying at a hotel about 40km from where we started the day, but our mud-covered bikes were proof of a successful day of adventuring. The following day we attacked the southern leg of the Quilotoa loop, to visit the crater lake of Quilotoa Volcano. On the road there we were very surprised to bump into Patrick and Janika, a Dutch couple on bicycles that we’d sailed from Panama to Colombia with. We gazed at their pedal bikes, their bulging thighs, their heaving chests and the enormous valley we were in, and happily flopped our skinny limbs back onto our motorised machines, to go buy burgers. Alas up at the volcano they didn’t have burgers, they had guinea pigs threaded onto metal rods, being hand twirled over barbeques by wrinkley, nodding locals. I imagined plunging my pointy teeth into the well-cooked critter, but found my legs involuntarily walked me away, so I followed the others up to a cheap restaurant serving chicken and rice, while trying to avoid the man’s nodding disappointment. The sky that day was bleak and overcast, making the water of the crater lake murky and dreary. We didn’t stay long at the 4000 metre high lake, and hit the wicked mountain curves again for more amazing riding, with Led Zepplin cranked on my iPod.

Volcano posing

Mmmmmm barbecued rat!
Taking a break at 4000 metres is tiring in itself.

Trying out Patrick and Janicka's bikes
The next notable town we found ourselves in is called Banos, which translates to toilets in Spanish. This is probably because the town lies at the foot of a 5000 metre high and very active volcano, which can shit on them at anytime. The popular gringo thing to do in that town is rent mountain bikes and ride along the river, downhill, for 20km, then catch a truck ride back into town. We joined forces with other people in our hostel to form a bicycle gang of 9, and did just that, ending at a very high, very violent waterfall called El Diablo. On the way we rode a cable car over the river gorge for a dollar, which was powered by the innards of truck, bolted to the edge of the cliff.

The 5000m high, active Tungurahua Volcano in Banos was just amazing. We saw lava flowing down it!

Banos is marketed as a bit of an extreme sport hub. So Atley and Ferg did a bridge swing. That's where you jump off a perfectly good bridge, with a rope tied around your feet, and then swing around under the bridge, for $20.

From Banos we did our final group ride together, with my bike dripping oil and Atley’s bike dropping bolts, to the unremarkable town of Riobamba. There we went out for quite possibly the fanciest dinner of the trip, $10 steaks, then in the true tradition of many memorable nights of our trip, we had a rum party in the hotel room with Uncky T, while watching the great footage we have for the final video. It was a jolly last evening together and indeed a very sad lot of goodbyes in the morning.

And that was that.

The trip was finished.

Final Rum Party
We’ve certainly come a long way since Atley and I randomly came up with the plan to ride motorbikes half way around the world, during a Skype conversation from Canada to Australia, in January 2011. Over the coming months we assessed the feasibility of it, and decided that by July 2012 we could both be in a position to depart. Over those 18 months many things happened, as life does, but we managed to stick to our word, and leave it all behind. I must admit that over those 18 months I was constantly waiting for that spanner in the works, that would stop the trip. But luckily, and amazingly, we managed to get ourselves to Brent’s garage on Draper Road, Fort McMurray, Canada, on June 15th 2012, with the biggest grins in history! Inside that garage were 2 motorbikes, boxes of parts, tools, motorbike gear, camping equipment, and the potential for a trip of a lifetime. And sitting here in Ecuador 11 months later, I can say quite confidently, that we succeeded.
We crossed 11 international borders, rode 33 000 kilometres, made hundreds of friends, learned how to maintain, fix and ride motorbikes, learned how to speak Spanish (kinda), learned how to make awesome videos, and we didn’t get robbed, kidnapped, lost or scared. (Much.)

We did it.
Ferg joined us 2 months into the trip and immediately became as much a part of it as Atley and I. Together we ate, camped, slept, decided and acted. We picked each other up countless times, whether it be from a fallen motorbike or a crappy mood. We looked after each other when we were sick, drunk or upset, and sometimes all at once. We learned to read each others’ minds, finish each others’ sentences and at a glance know exactly how many minutes until I was ready to go in the morning (yep, I was last to get ready about 95% of the time: AGAIN WE ARE WAITING FOR MATT??? Thanks for that quote German Matt). We have formed bonds that will never be forgotten and will never be undone, and words cannot express how grateful I am to both of them for enabling me to have the best year of my life. And as a true test and example of their muuuuuy fuerte relationship, Atley and Wendy not only survived being apart for most of the year, but got engaged on a mountain top in Guatemala. Myself, Ferg and everyone we know, wish them the absolute best in their future together, and have no doubt that it will be another successful adventure.

There are so many reasons why most people can’t do a trip like ours, whether it be money, time, family, work, health, ability, comfort or interest, and looking back on it, I’m amazed that we could get all our ducks in a row just to start it, let alone finish it. It was a life changing privilege. Repeat that last sentence please, but slower this time. Perhaps we’ll never be in the same position again, to take on such an epic adventure.... though something tells me that we’ll be back on the mules again, someday, somewhere.

Bye! I'm going to back to whence I came in the lanky caverns of Atley!
We have so many kind and amazing people to thank for aiding us in our journey, and rather than write them all out and inevitably miss some, I’d like to direct you to the Thank You page on this site, so we can miss some there. We’ve been absolutely privileged to meet SO MANY AWESOME PEOPLE along the way, that we’ve made friends with, shared the road with, gone swimming, surfing, drinking, dancing, hiking, diving, caving, camping, riding, fishing, walking, tanning, shopping, sailing, eating and exploring with! It certainly is the people you meet that colour memories and we are most grateful to have had such excellent experiences. A special thank you goes to those who invited us back to visit them in their home country.

Peru mountains. I know I didn't talk about Peru, but that's where Atley and Wendy are right now, so they've slipped a couple of pics in from down there.

To quickly tell you our future plans at this stage, Atley and Wendy are heading back to Melbourne to save up for their wedding later on this year, Ferg is off to explore Europe with his sister, and I’m heading back to Medellin, Colombia to work for Danny as a motorbike mechanic for a few months.

See you all...... right there!
Although this story is now finished, don’t smash your computer and kick your dog just yet, because you just never know when you may be hearing from us again....

Thank you!


The Matt, Atley, Ferg and Wendy Show!

PS With us all separated right now, Atley has no computer to make the final video. So stay tuned for that too...

Later dudes.