It was bittersweet as I said my last goodbyes to Shirley. Tears we shed as we took our last photo together. Call me emotional, but it really was like saying goodbye to a dear friend or family member. We had been through so much together. This bike was my only constant companion for 10 months of my life. I have laughed and I have cried thanks to this bike, but in the end, it got me to where I needed to go. And for that I am eternally grateful.
Shirley’s new owners are a nice local family. Dad is a long time rider who likes to travel by motorcycles other alone or with Mom. Mom also likes traveling by motorcycle and is currently learning how to ride on her own. Shirley will make a good practice bike for her. And 7-year-old son told me that he likes to stick to his bicycle.
I am thrilled that Shirley is now in the hands of a kind, loving family. They even said that I could come visit them if I am ever back in Cusco! The days of Helen and Shirley may be over, but we both definitely have plenty more adventures ahead of us!
The day before this picture was taken was supposed to be my last on the roads in South America. The last leg of my trip from the Pantanal in Brazil to Cusco, Peru had some challenging roads. One of the things that was challenging about them was the fact that they were so remote. As a solo motorcycle traveler this can be both exhilarating and scary. Having my bike break and getting stranded in the middle of nowhere was always my biggest fear and of course, on the very last day it finally happened. A few hours into my ride, I was going up a mountain road, when I began to notice that something was off. It is always a struggle getting my bike up mountains, but it sounded like it was working extra hard this time. Just as I turned a corner, I heard a some cracking and crunching. I pulled over and noticed that my chain had broken. The closest town was about 5 mountain miles behind me and I had no way to fix it on my own. My first reaction was to go into an extreme state of panic and imagine all the worst possible scenarios of what could happen. Then I realized that it would be pretty unlikely and embarrassing for me to die just 5 miles from civilization, so I began to strategize a plan. I had seen a few other vehicles(mostly trucks) on the road, so I decided that the only way I could get help would be to catch a ride into town. After spending about an hour and a half trying to wave people down, an elderly man in an old ambulance van finally pulled over and agreed to take me. I very reluctantly left my bike with my big backpack still strapped on the back(I took my smaller backpack with all of my documents and other valuables) and hopped in his car. The whole way I just sat there full of tension and practically in tears thinking about the possibility of someone taking my bike and stuff before I could get back. The driver did his best to reassure me that it would be ok and care-freely sang along to the Quechua tunes on the radio. He dropped me off at a bike shop(someone’s garage) in town and a mechanic took me back to where I had left my bike. Luckily, it was still there and he was able to fix the chain at least temporarily. I spent the night in the town and got a new chain put on because the old one had gotten stretched out. The next day I finally made it to Cusco where I was happily reunited with my dad, who I hadn’t seen since I left the US about a year prior. When I look back on these pictures I find it funny that I made it almost 30,000 miles without any problems with my bike and then on what was supposed to be the very last day, my chain broke in the middle of nowhere. It almost seems like the universe didn’t want my adventure to end. I was also very unsure about the next chapter of my life, but one thing that I did know for sure was that after everything that I had been through, I was finally feeling more ready than ever to take on whatever new challenges that would come my way.
Shirley made it back to Peru with a just a few more miles on her than when she left.
When I came across a group of people on the road who were just as crazy as (if not more crazy than) me, I couldn’t help but feel a special connection with them. I met these three at a motorcycle group meet-up on one of my last days in Brazil. They were also traveling around South America on two wheels, but instead of motorcycles, they were on Vespa scooters! We were all heading toward Cusco, but on different schedules and at different paces, so I went my own way with the understanding that we may or may not run into each other again. However, considering there was really only one way to get to Cusco from where we were, we did end up running into each other again, but not under the best of circumstances. When I found them on the road, one of the Vespas had broken down and was being towed by the other. I had arranged to stay with a Couchsurfing host that night, but instead, decided to camp out with them at the closest gas station. In the morning we hooked up the broken Vespa to my motorcycle with a rope and I towed it about 50 miles to the next closest town. By the time we got there, my friends still didn’t have a solid plan for fixing their bike, but I was on a tight schedule to get back to Cusco to meet up with my dad, so I decided to keep moving forward. We had only known each other for a couple of days, but it was still very sad when the time came for us to part ways. I have serious respect for these three people. The political and economic situation in Venezuela right now is complicated to say the least, but they took it as a an sign to pursue a dream and were extremely positive and flexible throughout the trip, even despite the trying circumstances. Meeting them was definitely one of the highlights of my trip and I hope that our paths cross again some day! Viva Latinoamérica en Vespa!! 🇻🇪
I remember the first time I went to Brazil about 10 years ago. I was visiting my sister during her year long exchange and one day our hosts decided to take us to visit some nearby waterfalls. I had seen lots of lakes and rivers and rapids before, but at that point in my life, waterfalls were just not something that I was used to seeing. Once we got to the first one, we were invited to go up to it and even go under it. I was a little hesitant at first because the movies that I had seen had made waterfalls seem very powerful and dangerous, but once I got under that first one, I was hooked. It was a magical and refreshing experience. Not to mention it felt like getting a free back massage! Now I seek out and swim in waterfalls whenever I get the chance. And now that I am aware of how great they are, I have realized that they actually aren’t that hard to come by in the Midwest! Here are a few pictures of me visiting a waterfall/swimming hole in Porto Velho, Brazil.
When I spent an evening with two hard core motorcyclists and two hard core Science professors.
Shirley is suddenly a chick magnet with a new wash and back tire!
Almost 6 months on the road and I was getting used to meeting strangers. My little Peruvian bike piled high with gear and my very apparent solitude caught the attention of people on the road, at stop lights, gas stations, restaurants and pretty much everywhere else I went. I got asked to take pictures with hostel guests and workers, truck drivers and even border patrol. In this particular instance, I was at a gas station in the middle of Brazil. The guy on the right was from the area, but also happened to be traveling by motorcycle. We got to talking when he noticed my Peruvian license plate as I was packing up to leave. It’s always nice to chat with other motorcycle aficionados! Just then, the guy on the left pulled up right next to us. It was apparent that he had been traveling a long time. He had stickers and patches on him from Alaska to Argentina and everywhere in between. As he got off his bike, he exclaimed, “Is this the girl from Chicago?” I quickly looked over my clothes and my bike to see what I had on me that could have given away where I was from. When I realized that I didn’t actually have anything on me that said Chicago, I asked him how he knew where I was from. “Everyone has been talking about you on the roads!” he said. “You’re the girl from the U.S who is riding a Peruvian motorcycle around South America! You‘re so brave for doing this!” I stood there feeling a mix of emotions; surprised and confused, then honored. I couldn’t believe that I had come across someone in the middle of nowhere, Brazil who had somehow found out about me and my story. Also, he had clearly been riding for a lot longer and further than I had, yet he considered ME brave! Now that I am back in the states, I always think back on this as one of my proudest moments and I continue to travel (vicariously) by following his motorcycle adventure pictures and videos on social media! 🙌🏍