This guest post series was kindly contributed by The Canadian DirtBags. Part 1 can be read here.
Never Eat Soggy Wieners. A basic mnemonic used by some to remember how the Cardinal points (North, East, South and West) on an everyday compass are orientated. Four simple words that, when combined with the sun and a couple of sticks, may serve to construct a lifesaving solar compass or, more likely, were memorized to guide you through that tedious Geography exam in High School Social Studies. As students, we also inadvertently learned how a small piece of magnetic iron ore, set precariously afloat in liquid, played a significant role in transforming whole cultures and societies across an unexplored planet. There is no denying that the simple magnetic compass, once refined and used as a navigational tool, had a substantial impact on world history. It has also affected people on a much lesser scale when we consider exploration and travel on a personal level. For several decades, a compass tucked securely into your tank or saddle bag has allowed riders the freedom to travel independently and safely into the most isolated and desolate of areas without fear of getting lost.
However, during preparations for a 6-month motorcycle trek across Central and South America, several interesting questions have arisen, leaving us to ponder just how far beyond “Soggy Wieners” navigation has evolved? One can’t help but inquire whether a standard analog compass is worth packing at all these days. Does the compass still play a role in contemporary adventure motorcycle travel and how does the latest infiltration of high-tech navigational tools affect today’s adventure travelers? Here’s how those and other questions have affected our route choice, the timing of our trip and the overall attitude towards an impending motorcycle journey to the Southern fringes of Tierra del Fuego.
Ongoing innovations in satellite and computer technologies have opened doors for more available and efficient means of personal navigation and, in turn, this has affected how many riders approach overall trip logistics and, specifically, the actual roads, trails, and eventual routes of travel. The progression of navigational technology has made it possible for those planning any sort of trip, be it a few kilometers or several thousand kilometers, to explore a proposed route with incredible detail and unprecedented accuracy. Even on a small scale, developing a travel plan for a short route can be a time consuming and comprehensive endeavor. Without question, accuracy and attention to detail are important considerations for persons planning a trip of any depth; however, at some point, too much detail and planning can arguably become a detriment by miring the process in overwhelming details. For example, Google Earth has genuine potential to place a trip organizer into a state of “information overload” by tempting users with graphic satellite imagery that notes every curve, undulation or questionable section of a proposed route.
While managing and plotting a few shorter motorcycle trips, we learned a valuable lesson about the precarious balance between, organizing a trip that is well planned and organizing a trip that is over planned. During these preparations, our initial expectations were that the more organized and detailed our agenda, the more likely we would happily meet our travel goals and contently arrive at our destinations unscathed. On the contrary, what we did discover was that the more particular and regimented our route, the more it seemed we were unable to follow it and the more frustrating the process became. In fact, disgruntled fellow riders could often be overheard voicing their aggravations: “you should have hammered out the route,” as we reached an unforeseen termination point or sat idly as the route was reworked. The phrase “hammering out a route,” eventually became a familiar trip mantra for whenever an errant turn arose, we ended up on the wrong side of a gate or were forced into setting up camp under questionable conditions. Despite concerted efforts to follow these well- intentioned itineraries we discovered that a rigid, in-depth approach to trip planning and navigation is an unrealistic and unproductive fit for us.
So, as the process of mapping out a motorcycle route from Vancouver to Ushuaia began, we wanted to avoid some our past oversights; in particular, the drawbacks related to “hammering out” a draconian style trip itinerary. This time around, our approach to navigation and route planning will be considerably less exhaustive, more relaxed and increasingly flexible. Some of the travel goals to be implemented for this trip will include slower overall travel speeds on the bike and the understanding that not all destinations will be reached. Too many times in the past we have raced like hell to reach a prescribed destination only to realize with bewilderment that we had little recollection of the journey itself. Although the person who wrote: “Life is a journey, not a destination,” never rode a motorcycle, he unwittingly provided us, and so many other riders, with a worthy trip mantra. With this statement in mind, maybe it is possible to allow the “trip experience,” rather than an anemic map line highlighted by fluorescent Sharpie marker, to dictate pace and to play a role in where we end up each day. We hope that 6 months will allow us the levity to travel in this manner, at a less hectic pace with the liberty to interact more freely with locals, nature and culture alike.
Our trip itinerary is one that features a simple timeline and some corresponding destinations, it is primarily intended to keep us on somewhat of a schedule, and for the most part, pointed in the right direction. It is a rudimentary outline by design, mainly a list of countries that we need to cross in order to reach our southerly destination of Ushuaia. It is anything but comprehensive and as such, we are comfortable knowing that most of our navigational decisions will be done as the trip unfolds.
We have included our basic outline in hopes that readers would assist with helping to fill some of the blanks with suggestions deemed as must see or do. The only caveat for consideration, is that we are looking for recommendations that fall outside a typical “Lonely Planet” experience. In closing, although our philosophy towards trip and route planning has evolved, we are still Neanderthals when it comes to navigational tools. Is there really any doubt whether a compass is worth packing these days? Not according to this caveman.
Thanks for reading, The Canadian DirtBags.