These days, everyone who is going anywhere on a motorcycle is usually also on social media in one way or another. Whether riders are just documenting their travels for their own sake or to keep their loved ones in the loop, or whether it’s full-blown YouTube documentaries and big Instagram pages, most of the time, riders are out there for everyone to see, follow, connect, or just observe. And in many ways, that’s a good thing – it makes it that much easier for others to get real-life route and border crossing information, ask for advice or recommendations, or simply get inspired.
But there’s also a large number of riders who just do their thing and fly under the radar. They’re out there riding, traveling, and never posting a single photo or video anywhere; some of them have never even heard of Instagram, and most of them just don’t care. A lot of them have stories to tell that are far more fascinating than anything we see on social media, the routes they take are often ones we haven’t even thought of, and their bikes are sometimes cobbled together out of stuff no sponsor could ever dream of. Every once in a while, I have the privilege of meeting overlanders like that – whether in some wild camping spot we chance upon, on the road, or in some remote gas station in the middle of nowhere; we camp, we ride, we swap stories and beers, and then they’re gone, on their way, never to be seen or heard from again.
And for some reason, these are the riders I remember most vividly.
Here is a story about one of them.
Back in 2014, as I was riding my little bike from Chile back North, I spent the New Year in a small campsite in Punta Arenas among a jolly bunch of other overlanders, riders, hikers, and mountaineers. Among them was a Swiss rider aboard a flashy KTM, telling me about this American rider he’d met back in Tierra del Fuego, Crazy Steve; “you’ve got to meet Crazy Steve, man, that guy is nuts – he lives in Botswana and is a headmaster of a boys’ school he’d built from scratch, and every once in a while, he just chucks everything and travels on his bike for months”, the Swiss rider told me. Crazy Steve had left a few days earlier, however, and I knew I had no chance of catching up on my little 150cc; and so, while it was a cool story, I soon forgot it completely, waited out my Chilean New Year’s hangover, and hit the road heading into Argentina along the Ruta 40 soon afterward.
Few days in, though, and I found myself out of gas and out of food somewhere between Tres Lagos and Bajo Caracoles, a stretch of road so desolate and lonely it’s mostly empty and windswept on the busiest of days. Now, right after New Year’s, it was completely deserted, and I knew there would be no vehicles with a spare litre of gas to get me out of trouble. Due to inexperience and my tiny tank, I miscalculated my range by about 80 kilometers, and there I was, alone, out of fuel, and out of options.
As I pondered my predicament, a beautiful vision suddenly appeared on the road: a black Honda heading my way, its pilot invisible behind the tall windshield. At first, I thought I was seeing things, but as the Honda stopped and its rider hopped off the bike, shaking my hand and asking what’s up, I realized the miracle was indeed happening.
More miraculously still, as we started chatting, the rider told me he was originally from Wisconsin, but he’d lived in the Okavango Delta for over a decade now. I pricked up my ears. Could it be…?
“Is your name, um, Steve by any chance?”, I asked.
“How the hell did you know??”, Crazy Steve slapped his knees, laughing.
We chatted a little more about life and coincidence, and Crazy Steve shared some of his reserve fuel with me. We rode to Bajo Caracoles, then Perito Moreno together, and camped there for a couple of days, joining the other overlanders cooking food, drinking wine, and swapping stories. Crazy Steve had no shortage of them – his life on the road, his school in Botswana, his travels in Africa and the Americas – and they all sounded nothing short of fascinating to me, but what left the biggest impact was his endless humor and his kindness that spilled out of every story and every word. He seemed like one of those old, old souls that have seen a lot, have been through a lot, but instead of hardening or cracking, they fill up with empathy and understanding of this world in ways deeper and kinder than I could ever imagine.
After a couple of days, Crazy Steve left for Chile’s Carreterra Austral, and I headed North on the 40; I never saw him again, and he’ll never pop up on any social media feed.
I hope that wherever he is, Crazy Steve is still out there rolling under the stars or teaching math and sciences somewhere in the Okavango, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose and saying, hey, kid, hey – you’ll be alright, to whoever needs to hear it most.
Who was the most interesting rider you’ve ever met on the road and why? Share in the comments below!