Friday, October 21, 2016

The Ultimate Road Trip: Riding to Ushuaia

"A challenge for those who go, a dream for those who stay behind." That's how I explained my dream--or plan, really--of riding from San Diego to Ushuaia on a motorcycle to some friends over drinks recently.

It'll be Baja and mainland Mexico through Central America via the Pan-American Highway to Panama, a short hop over the Darien Gap to Colombia, then down, down, down to Patagonia and the tip of South America.

Once that's completed, I'll decide whether to ride home via another route or sell my bike and fly home.

Easy peasy.

Or not.

And that's the gist of it, really.

The preliminary planning has begun. I just need to fill in a few gaps in the agenda: When and with whom.

As of today, the answers would be: Ushuaia by New Year's Day 2018/2019 per a very loose schedule and solo or with a good friend or two. Oh...then there was the matter of what to do about my current job and the financing of this adventure.

So I refilled their drinks and we stared at the rough map...

Pan-American Highway: The Ultimate Road Trip: Stuff to consider:

Research: Ride reports, recent experiences, weather, etc.
Bikes: All the same kind? (KLR, etc.)
Pre-ride (US, Canada) to shake down gear, bikes, personalities?
Route: Most direct or certain sites/cities along the way?
Final mechanical inspection: Bikes gone through thoroughly
Cost and finances: Daily/per country
Time: 3-6 months (each way)
Problem areas to be aware of:
Mechanic skills: Rider with repair abilities
Crucial bike parts: Tires, chains, sprockets, tubes, oil.
Tools: Tire changing, compressor.
Gear: Camping equipment, clothing, protective equipment.
Tracking: SPOT GPS, DeLorme InReach.
Givens: Not riding at night, flexibility.
Planned route vs. changes:
Lodging: Hotel, camping, couch surfing, hostels.
Major decisions en route: Injuries, mechanical difficulties calling it quits, return: sell bike/fly back or ride back different route.
Emergency situations: Robbery, injury, bike loss/damage, splitting up, getting lost.
Documents: Passport (validity, expiration), ID, "dummy" wallet, registration, insurance, title, copies.
Medical/evacuation insurance:
Vaccinations: Mandatory, recommended.
Info cards/ride logo decals:

Things to know about the Pan-American Highway:

1. The PanAm is the longest motorable road in the world.

2. It goes through Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.

3. It ends in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost point of South America.

4. There is just one point that is impassable by road: the 100-mile Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia (undeveloped swampland, impenetrable rainforest, Colombian guerrillas and all sorts of bad, bad people).

5. The two main ways to traverse this portion of the journey are air or sea (possible ferry and sailboat to ship bikes from Panama to Colombia) or a short flight.

6. The distance between San Diego, CA, USA and Ushuaia is approximately 10k miles. Riding an average of eight hours a day, it would take about 70 days to get to Argentina.

7. Crossing borders is an art and requires research and patience to do it right. The time it takes to cross a border can vary between 45 minutes and 8 hours.

8. Then, after reaching the tip of South America (Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia), there are options for returning: Riding the same route back, taking a different (northeasterly) route back or flying back (with our without shipping the some sell the bike in Ushuaia).

BONUS: Pan-American Highway: The Ultimate Road Trip

Encompassing some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes and almost 30,000 miles of open road across North, Central and South America, the legendary Pan-American Highway is the ultimate road trip. Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest motorable road in the world, the highway officially takes in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. Although it does not officially include routes through the United States and Canada, many people begin in Alaska and drive or cycle all the way to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost point of South America.

There is just one point that is impassable by road: the 80 to 100-mile Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia, which consists of undeveloped swampland and impenetrable rainforest inhabited by indigenous tribes, Colombian guerrillas and an array of exotic wildlife. This portion of the journey must be bypassed by air or sea, with ferries available to ship vehicles from Panama to Colombia and vice versa (more information available here:

While one of the most popular driving routes in the world, the Pan-American Highway is not just for those who move on four wheels. Every year many determined enthusiasts complete the journey by motorcycle. We recommend stopping off at the Mayan ruins of Palenque before crossing from Mexico into Guatemala.

Leave Normal Life Behind

If it’s escapism you’re after then what could be better than spending months on the open road with only a digitalized record collection, a copy of Jack Kerouac’s seminal beat novel On the Road and thousands of miles of amazing scenery for entertainment? From the snow-covered Alaskan tundra and the rugged peaks of the Rockies to the sun-baked deserts of northern Mexico and the tropical beachside jungles of Central America, the road just keeps on winding south through the towering Andes and Chile’s surrealist Atacama desert toward the penguin colonies of Patagonia. Aside from admiring natural beauty, a big part of traveling involves meeting new people and learning about foreign cultures, and there is an almost endless stream of stop-off points along the highway that allow for all kinds of interactions and new experiences with the diverse inhabitants of the Americas.

There are many different routes than you can choose to take through the United States but once you reach Mexico if you’re happy to diverge from the official route, we recommend avoiding the more lawless parts of the north by descending through the cactus-lined highways of Baja California and then catching the ferry from the charming seaside town of La Paz to the Pacific port of Mazatlan. From there you can stop off at big cities like Guadalajara and Mexico City before moving southeast to the culturally rich states of Oaxaca and Chiapas which are home to dozens of Mayan archaeological sites such as the stunning Palenque.

There are fewer route options in Central America where there are not as many roads going north to south, but upon reaching Panama’s Darien Gap we recommend chartering a boat to the colonial city of Cartagena where you can enjoy the best of Colombia’s lush Caribbean coastline. Moving down into Peru, few would pass up the opportunity to hike the legendary Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Further south, you can stop off at Lake Titicaca before taking in the unmissable salt flats that straddle Chile and Bolivia. If you have time for a detour then refuel with the continent’s finest steak and red wine in Buenos Aires before continuing south to the immense glaciers in the Tierra del Fuego region.

Driving an average of eight hours a day, it would take approximately three months to get from Alaska to Argentina, although most travelers take much longer (anywhere from six to 18 months) in order to make regular detours and stop-offs. Costs vary dramatically depending on your choices of accommodation, extra activities and how long you take to complete the journey, but one solo driver spent 22 months on the road for $27,300 US (see his budgeting info here: while another three-person team completed the journey in 20 months for a total of $88,000 US (see their breakdowns per country here:

When planning and executing your journey we recommend you heed the following advice:

* Don’t forget to bring any important travel documents, including your passport and driving license, and – depending on your nationality – make any necessary visa arrangements in advance.
* Consider any vaccinations you might need depending on your route. These may include shots or pills to prevent malaria, yellow fever, hepatitis A & B, typhoid fever, rabies, tetanus and diphtheria.
* Pack clothes for all climates as any trip across the Americas will mean braving both summer and winter and traveling from the icy extremes of Alaska to Patagonia via the sticky heat of the equator.
* Avoid driving at night and always seek out the U.S. State Department’s most recent travel advisories (available here) before entering a country in order to avoid any areas that are threatened by criminal elements or political unrest.
* For more recommendations on travel gear, vehicle modifications, medications, theft prevention, specific border crossing procedures, information on each country, and a full list of online resources, check out The Essential Guide to Driving North, Central and South America, available here: