Leg 1 - Around the world to 82 countries - End of all Roads
This leg is told by Dan Bartlett.
We are 3 guys who work in the travel industry with some pretty good travel benefits, and we use every bit of those benefits. That might sound glamorous but if we weren’t flexible and willing to roll with the punches, it would be miserable. We travel on the standby list for every flight we try to get on, but with proper planning we can usually make it, but not always. We have made the world our backyard and have tried to explore as much of it as possible on motorcycles. We have become addicted to accessing remote parts of the planet and all of the experiences that follow. It was on one of those trips to Laos that our trip around the world was born!
Our life is on the island of Guam. Guam is an island in the pacific with a slow island pace. The comment most heard on Guam is “Guam is what Hawaii was 50 years ago.” I would say I agree with that. I came to Guam with an 18 month commitment to my employer, and that was 8 years ago. I found very quickly that I enjoyed the climate, people and lifestyle. I also found a group of like minded friends: Bob Lynch and Brian Johnson. We traveled often throughout Asia and the remote islands of the pacific. We were very active with Scuba Diving, Kite Surfing, all water sports and brewing beer. Our life was kind of a vacation. We weren’t exactly tucking money away but I’d say we were living each day as if it was going to be over soon, but not recklessly.We became addicted to motorcycle travelling and getting in remote areas of the Philippines and southeast Asia. We were not only travelling for our job, but in our free time we were constantly exploring. Our Guam life was also full of people that were doing similar things and it became addictive to not only live our own adventures but to hear and learn through other’s experiences and often times travel down a road that one of our friends had suggested. Our peer group was a fun group of people and it’s like the saying goes, “Birds of a Feather Flock Together!”
As I mentioned in the beginning, our plan for riding around the world was born in Laos. The entire story is on the OUR STORY section of our web site so I won’t be redundant and tell the story again. Just know that it was from a day on a trip full of pain and perseverance that we believed we could make a lap around the world if we could survive that day.Our work schedule would allow for a riding schedule of ride for one month, and then go back to work for a month. We came up with a route that would be manageable with leaving our bikes and equipment in places for a month at a time. This was tricky and is still an ongoing process. I figure we are going to figure a lot of that out as we go, but nonetheless, our route is planned to include 82 countries. The plan was to meet in Seattle, buy our bikes and ride up to Alaska for our first leg but I ended up buying a motorcycle in San Diego while visiting my family over Christmas. It was a right place, right time kind of story and I just couldn’t let the deal pass me by. I always wanted to ride the Pacific Coast Highway too and this just gave me an excuse to do it. March 15, 2017 After spending a couple of days sorting through gear and packing my bike, I hit the road from San Diego to Seattle. The ride up the coast was fantastic! I have to apologize because I found myself in such a zone of happiness that I didn’t care to take many pictures at all and I wasn’t even thinking about the GoPro on my head or my handlebars. I had been planning this trip for almost 2 years and when the moment finally arrived, I had an inner smile that would have stretched miles. In February I had a preventative surgery in preparation for this ride, and my incision was bothering me and swelling more and more by the day. I visited my sister in San Luis Obispo, California and I barely could get off my bike. It was so good to see her but I was so uncomfortable that I had to lie on the floor stretched out when we were initially catching up. I told her it was because I was sore from being on the bike for a while but that wasn’t entirely true. I was in pain, but I wasn’t going to let it infringe on my long awaited trip, so I stuck my head in the sand and acted like everything was OK. It wasn’t. The swelling was getting abnormally large and I knew I had a problem. I stopped at a gas station and after filling up I went over to the side and lay in the grass. After lying there
for about a half hour, it took everything I had to swing my leg over the bike and get back in my nest of a seat and carry on.I was headed to San Francisco after my visit with my sister. I had a friend named Maly there that I was looking forward to seeing again. I met Maly when Bob and I were in Laos after one of our most challenging days of riding. Her story is on our PEOPLE page of our website and I encourage you to go read her story because its an interesting story of a small girl and her family forced to leave their homeland and landing in America to have a successful life. She is an example of why America is a beacon of hope for so many people around the globe.
Maly and I had kept in touch and she said that her friend Ann owned a boutique hotel on the water in Half Moon Bay which is in the San Francisco area. I was looking forward to meeting Ann who sounded like she had a neat life story also, and spending time with Maly and getting to know her in a somewhat normal environment, unlike in Laos when I was beat up physically and emotionally. Obviously my deteriorating health was not going to make it a normal meeting.
As I arrived, Maly was there to greet me with her contagious smile and soft demeanor. Ann was a firecracker of high energy and always smiling and laughing as she carried on in her brisk walk. Ann told me not to park in the parking lot and offered up a spot in her 3 car garage. I was very appreciative of a good parking spot. Ann got me situated in a water front room with a nice balcony overlooking the ocean. It was great view and the salt was in the California air like only California can do. It was perfect!
We sat down to a nice dinner that Maly had prepared and a couple glasses of wine. They wanted to hear about my trip and I wanted to hear more about both of their unusual stories of how they got to America. I was captivated that both of them had persevered and done so well for themselves. I like hard workers and success stories, especially when the obstacles are endless. I’ve always gravitated towards those people that have overcome adversity when the deck is stacked against them. Maly and Ann were two people that I could have talked to for days. Maly and I had planned a short motorcycle ride the following morning down the coast to see a couple of the local tourist attractions. I was eager to get to my room, so I could lie flat, because my swelling had continued and was reaching a tipping point.
The next day Maly and I rode down the coast for a short bit and had lunch at an old restaurant that was built in the late 1800’s, and not much had changed. It was a neat place full of character. It was good to see Maly and learn about her life. I’m 46 now and I have learned that we all have our own battles to fight, some big, some small. One of the beauties of the human condition is being able to share a short time with someone and feel their joys and pains. We can do that through TV shows or books, but its best when it’s via time spent with someone and hearing the blow by blow accounts of things in their life. My travels have gotten me addicted to many things, and one of them is connecting with people in a short period of time. If I can do that with someone, chances are I will never forget and I will be a friend for life.
At the end of the day, I was struggling to get around and the swelling had reached a point that I had to call my doctor in San Diego. He said he was booked up for the next 15 days, but if I could get from San Francisco to San Diego by the next day that he could see me at 7am and that was the only opportunity to get in for a while. I asked Ann if it was ok for me to leave my motorcycle there in her garage for a month in case I didn’t come back for a while, which she agreed. Maly drove me to the airport, we said our goodbyes, and I as on a flight headed to San Diego. That is not how I thought my day would end.My dad picked me up at the airport and I was in the doctor’s office at 7am. My doctor said I needed to get in for surgery right away! It didn’t sound good and I got a sense of urgency from him that I wasn’t expecting. I had just eaten a small breakfast so I had to wait 8 hours so that my food didn’t interfere with the anesthesia. Eight hours later I was in surgery. I was relieved the pain was gone but now I had the pain of another incision and I had to go through another 4 weeks of recovery. It was good to spend time at my parents house but not the ideal conditions.
Four weeks later I hopped a plane to San Francisco and Ann picked me up at the airport. Even though I had just met her the month before, it was very good to see her and her bright smile. She took me to her Oceanfront Hotel in Half Moon Bay and lifted the garage where my precious motorcycle was waiting for me. It was like being reunited with an old friend. Maly wasn’t there because she lives in Fresno and she couldn’t get away from work. I spent the evening with Ann, her husband who is a doctor from Germany, and his friend that was visiting from Switzerland.
It was a nice visit in Half Moon Bay at the Oceanfront Hotel and my trip had started out with some good people. Now that my health issue was put to rest the road was calling my name and I was reinvigorated with the excitement of a new adventure all over again!The following day I pointed my bike towards Seattle. I stopped just north of San Francisco to see an old friend, Brian Tessitore, who I had not seen in 15 years. We ran around together in the same group of friends when we both lived in LA. Brian showed up with his newborn son and the three of us had lunch and tried to get caught up on 15 years of life, in 2 hours. It was great to see him and another reminder that few things in life are better than old friends.
After leaving Brian I realized that I had no one else to see until I got to Seattle. The pacific coast was all mine for a few days with just me and my motorcycle. My inner grin showed up again and it was so good to be so simply happy! I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny day, looking over at Alcatraz and all of San Francisco. The view was spectacular! I had my music on in my helmet and I remember thinking not many things could make me more happy than I was at that moment. I even turned my GoPro cameras on to document my elation. I would find out later that my cameras were set too high and none of the footage would be usable. With all new gear, camera and gadgets, there was a learning curve. I am most sorry that my camera missed the ride through the Redwood Forest.I figured out my camera angles and got all my electronics situated for the ride the next day. When I started to ride toward the Oregon border, it started raining and didn’t let up for a couple of days. By this time, Bob, Brian and my uncle Glen were waiting for me in Seattle. I ended up jumping over to I-5 and going fast to Seattle from middle Oregon. It rained the entire way and I figured it was a good way to test my gear and see how waterproof my suit was, which turned out to be 100% waterproof. In Seattle, I would meet up with Bob, Brian, my uncle Glen and Justin Schuchat. Justin is a coworker of ours, lives in Seattle and was going to ride with us to Anchorage. Once we got to Anchorage he was going to put his bike on a boat and sail back. Glen is my uncle and one of my favorite relatives. He is a Vietnam vet, retired nurse and he certainly marches to the beat of his own drummer. Glen lost his 22 year old son a year before this trip due to a tragedy. It was very sudden and hit our entire family hard, especially Glen. I’ve had a couple of internet trolls say “you aren’t really riding around the world if you have a support car.” My uncle Glen is going to do the North America lap with us and then peel off to head for home once we come to the Mexican border…but he is welcome to come on as much as he’d like to. This trip has many reasons of existence for each of us, and for Glen, I’m just so glad to see him smiling and enjoying life again. The road has a therapeutic quality that only the road can do. I arrived in Seattle and Bob had booked an AirBnB for all of us. The first night we decided to launch the trip right and go to a U2 concert. I could not think of a better beginning for all of us being together, the excitement of the trip and launching day 1 with a U2 show!
After two hectic days in Seattle trying to get out of town with last minute supplies, we were finally on the road at 5pm just in time to catch rush hour traffic! We made it about 20 miles out of town before someone had to pull over and I was just happy to have a little momentum because I was tired of herding cats. A quick Walmart stop turned into a 2 hour gun shopping trip and a Mexican restaurant. We were then confronted with the question of do we try to make it across the border tonight, which closes at midnight? Or, do we grab a motel and cross the border in the morning? We opted to try to make it to the border that night.
When we got to the border it was 10pm. Glen went first and declared his guns which made him get secondary screening. We had a bunch of beer, guns, ammo, bear mace and who knows what else Glen has packed in his truck but its loaded to the ceiling with all of our things. As the four of us approached the border guard one by one we were escorted over to secondary screening and invited inside the building for a barrage of questions. When I asked what the problem was, they said “we are not used to seeing motorcycle groups come up to Canada this early in the season and it’s late at night, which causes suspicion.” We spent the next 2 hours having our things rifled through and explaining every place that I had ever lived since I was 18 years old which was 28 years ago. They had the record of every place I had ever lived in my life and quizzed me on all of it. I guess I expect there to be tough border crossings, but I sure didn’t expect Canada to be a tough crossing. We were all fully annoyed at the way it was handled but after a couple of hours, we were on our way. I don’t know what they put in the water at border crossing guard school but they all sure seem to be a bunch of unhappy dicks! That goes for all countries. We stayed the first night in Abbotsford just across the border and we got an early start the next morning to make our way toward Alaska. We opted to not take the Alcan Highway and took the more rural route on highway 16 to the Stewart Highway. Once we got west of Prince George it was beginning to feel like we were on our own. We passed about half a dozen cops while we were doing 90+MPH and they turned their lights on, shook their finger at us, and kept going. I fell in love with Canada just because of that! Justin ran out of gas just before we could make a gas station because gas stations were getting scarce.
We made our first camp on the side of a road, or kind of in the middle of the road, just west of Prince George.
I think we were all just so happy to be away from the world we knew, camping underneath the stars, and enjoying a big fire. The happiness levels kept changing to different heights.As we made a turn northbound, we didn’t see another car for more than 200 miles and we were definitely all on our own. Everyone says, “don’t pass up a gas station without getting gas” and they were right. There are not many services and not many people, which was just fine with us. We approached the Dease Lake area of British Columbia and we needed gas and a place to stay. There was a sign for service up ahead so we planned to stop. As we made our stop at the gas station which had a small campground, there was nobody around. We honked our horns, driving around looking for signs of life and after about 20 minutes a big guy in his late 30’s came out with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He said, “we are closed!” and turned around abruptly. I said, “we just need a place to stay for the night. Can we camp here?” He slowly turned around, walked straight back to my bike, gave a sigh, and said “how many do you have? You guys don’t even know what you are walking into right now. You guys just walked into the biggest family drama. There is so much BS going on right now you don’t even know! I tell ya what, there are several log cabins down on the lake and they haven’t been serviced but just take all of those and there is a bunch of firewood down there too. Just take as much as you need. Breakfast will be ready in the morning when you guys are ready. Just give me $100, sound good?” I was surprised and agreed quickly before he changed his mind because obviously we got there right in the middle of a family dispute. We paid our $100 Canadian and grabbed 4 cabins.
We had the campground and lake to ourselves. It felt about as far as you could get away from it all. It was fantastic! It was a good place to try out our new guns. We had a 44 Henry rifle, small 22, and a 12 gauge shotgun that had never been fired. We went to the water and shot for a while and it was a blast! Bob had never shot a gun before. I didn’t know that and Glen enjoyed taking him under his tutelage and showing him the way of a marksman.
We continued north up the Stewart Highway to the border of British Columbia and Yukon Territory. I really enjoyed all things of Canada. The lay of the land was gorgeous and the people had an innocence to them which I enjoyed. At almost every stop, they had some funny witty signs.
As we left the Stewart Highway, we merged for a day on to the Alcan Highway. This is where the masses traveled and is a place I wanted to see later but not really right now, because I enjoy off the beaten path way of travel. We went through Whitehorse, which is a sizeable town and we made our way to the entrance of the Dempster Highway. The Dempster is well known throughout motorcycle communities and can be hit or miss with the road conditions. We were there early before the season really had started, in mid May so it really had an unpredictable quality. We had heard stories of the road not being groomed and being so full of pot holes that it might not be passable from the ice melt. That may be true but that was not our experience.
The camping was good and we had another campsite all to ourselves. We were warned countless times that going up to Alaska and riding the Dempster Highway is a bad idea that early in the season. We risked it, and so far it had paid off. We had all of the campsites to ourselves, unlimited wood and good weather.
We didn’t plan to ride the entire Dempster Highway up to Inuvik. We just wanted to go up to Eagle Plains and get above the Arctic Circle. When we were planning the trip we learned that we had two options for going above the Arctic Circle: The Dempster Highway on the Canadian side of the border or we could ride up the Dalton Highway which begins just north of Fairbanks, Alaska and goes up to Prudhoe Bay. We had heard that the Dalton Highway was very busy with trucks running supplies up to the pipeline and communities. We had the Dempster Highway all to ourselves and I can count on one hand how many other cars we saw the entire time of our 500+ miles on the Dempster.We had been packing up camp every time we camped. But the day we were going up to the Arctic Circle a debate was had if we pack up or just leave our things because we are coming back at the end of the day. It was about 200 miles from our campsite to the Arctic Circle and 200 miles back and it was a gravel road. I thought we should pack up and just take our stuff with us in case anything happened. Brian was riding in the truck with Glen because he had torn rotator cuff surgery, and he thought we should just leave everything. That sounded pretty good to everyone because we were getting tired of setting up and breaking down everyday. It might be kind of nice to not set up and break down for a day. I was voted down and we left our gear at Tombstone campground. What could happen on such a beautiful day?We rode up to Eagle Plains and the weather was gorgeous, as well as the scenery. We couldn’t have asked for a better day. We rode up to the Arctic Circle and had it all to ourselves again.
We stopped for a while and drank a beer. Brian and Bob took their clothes off and took some pics for the novelty of being at the Arctic Circle and drinking an almost naked beer. Brian can’t raise his arm because of his broken shoulder. On the way home we stopped at the Eagle Plains Lodge and had lunch. We refilled our water jugs with Glacier water which may have been the best water I’ve ever had. I rationed that water for a while after leaving there.As we began our 200 mile trip back to our camp on a beautiful day, the sky started to change and it changed fast. The blue sky changed to black and then started to sleet and then snow. It was now snowing and we were 130 miles from our camp. The road was quickly covered and we couldn’t tell where the road was or the ditch on either side of the road. Our masks were fogging, our teeth were chattering in our intercoms, my left boot was somehow letting water in and I had about an inch of water sloshing around in my boot and the temperature was now 30 degrees Fahrenheit. We went from enjoying the ride, to suddenly just aiming for the middle of the road, forgetting about potholes or any pitfalls of the road! We just wanted to stay on the road and aimed for the middle. We slowed to about 25MPH and it took us about 7-8 hours to finish the last 130 miles with a few stops along the way. It was not fun
As we finally got back to our campsite we were all pretty frozen. Glen popped out of the truck and started a fire immediately. It was so good to have him in that moment because there was no way my fingers were gonna make a fire. Bob went to warm up in his tent, never to be seen again for the day. We were all exhausted.
As we licked our battle wounds the following morning we left for a short ride to Dawson. There are two towns in this area named Dawson. There is Dawson Creek and there is Dawson City. They are very different from each other. Dawson City is like a time warp and is a mining town that is very much still in the 1800s. It is full of character and we could have spent several days in this cool town.
We were there on a Saturday night which is the one night the local bar has a good crowd and band. We spent a few hours at the casino with a burlesque show and then went to The Pit.
Glen was in heaven. There was a good vibe at the casino and we made some new friends that showed us the town. Glen is not shy and makes friends everywhere he goes. He also loves to dance. As soon as we got into The Pit, Glen was on the dance floor. A group of girls approached him and asked if he was Ralph Lauren. That made his day and he danced the night away with a smile on his face.Sadly, we left Dawson and went toward Alaska on The Top of the World Highway, which was a mostly paved road perched on top of the mountains with amazing views. We were told we needed to stop in a small mining camp named Chicken, Alaska. There wasn’t much to the town of Chicken but a few shops and a bar. We made our way to the bar for lunch and stayed for most of the afternoon. The town was originally going to be called Ptarmigan, but out of fear with misspelling the name they played it safe and called it Chicken. The people of Chicken asked where we were going and we told them Fairbanks. They convinced us to skip Fairbanks on this leg and go toward Valdez. They said it was a great ride and a neat town. This was great advice. Our route had once again changed on a whim based on the word of strangers.
The ride to Valdez was scenic but then it started to rain which turned to snow. It happens fast in Alaska and with not much warning. We were suddenly ready for a warm bed and warm shower again.
As soon as we got to town we found a Mexican restaurant. The owner was a former police officer in Mexico and Federally. When he heard about our trip he insisted on sitting with a map and telling us where was safe in Mexico and where was not. Again, my faith in humanity was renewed with the kindness of strangers. That’s one of the biggest reasons I would like to do this trip is because I’d like to highlight that there are more good people of the world, rather than the bad ones which seems to be all we hear about. No question that the bad people are out there and we can’t be naïve to that fact but that doesn’t mean that we as a whole should cower in our homes and not live life to the fullest. It means that you live to the max and deal with the bad when it happens.
All of us are mariners and enjoy all things boats. Valdez is a good place to walk the docks and check out boats. While we did this we ended up hopping on a boat and going to check out some glaciers. It was cool sitting on the bridge with the captain and watching him negotiate his way through icebergs. A fun day and it was nice to finally have a day where we weren’t on the move so much.
We had a great time in Valdez and it was another town that I wish we had more time to spend. We were on the home stretch now and almost to Anchorage. Our work schedule is such that we have to work for a month and then we can go ride for a month, giving us a month ON/OFF of riding. Therefore, we were coming to the end of our month long tour and we had Anchorage in our sights. We left in the morning and made a few pit stops along the way…
and then we made it to Anchorage and went directly to a brewery to celebrate with a beer.
We arrived in Anchorage and got an AirBnB. We rented a house and stayed for a couple of days. It was a good time to secure the bikes and explore Anchorage. We rode up to Talkeetna, which is about a 2 hour ride north of town, so that we could do a glacier tour. We went to McKinley Scenic Flights and hopped on a Beaver and cruised around the national park to land on a glacier. It was a great day with fantastic visibility, which the pilot said was kind of rare for that time of year.
After giving the bikes a good scrub down we took them to The Motorcycle Shop. We have encountered several motorcycle shops along the way but I really can’t say enough about how helpful this crew was. They serviced our bikes, gave us a tour of their facility, stored some of our bikes for a month, shipped Brian’s bike to Vermont so he could meet up on the next leg after his shoulder is healed, and then they took us out for beers at a local brew pub. When we showed up a month later, these guys had put a new set of tires on our bikes. They were so helpful and accommodating! Big thanks to Chris and his staff at The Motorcycle Shop!! Bob, Brian and Justin left and Glen and I went down to Homer for a few days.
Glen had a couple of friends that lived in Kenai and invited us down to stay with them for a few days. Norma and Bill had a great log home with a large garage that they graciously offered to store my bike and Glens truck while we were gone for a month. In the meantime, Glen and I checked out the Kenai peninsula and rode to Homer.
After a couple days of exploring the Kenai area, Glen and I got on a plane and headed for home. I went to Guam and Glen went to Iowa. It was a great month and our dream trip was finally underway. We are now realizing our month ON/OFF schedule and now we get a break, sort of if you call going to work a break. But, we are going back to our lives to remind the people in our life that we are still alive and well. It’s a good pace of maintaining the trip and keeping somewhat of a normal life too.There were countless laughs, wonderful scenery and a few scares along the way. Those are the reasons we ride. I read years ago “the definition of adventure is when the outcome is uncertain.” I would say the outcome is uncertain where we are headed and we will forge on to have our adventure and hopefully to show the good things and people of the world. Leg 2 – is Alaska to Buffalo NY coming up July 15 – August 15, 2017Thanks for following!