Most riders have fond memories of their first bikes and their first rides – but what about their younger motorcycling selves? If you could go back in time and give some advice to your younger ADV self, what would you say?
Having started riding motorcycles eight years ago and gone on a trip across South America right after learning to ride, I’ve had my fair share of lessons on the road and a somewhat steep learning curve. While I still believe in being thrown into the deep end, some of my most spectacular rookie mistakes could have been avoided – or at least, ended in less mess. So if I could go back and share some wisdom with my 27-year old self starting a motorcycle journey in Peru, here’s what I would say:
Planning and prepping are important, especially if you’ve not ridden bikes outside of the Western world before. Good gear, some off-road training, a reliable bike, and a general direction will make a difference – but never wait for perfect circumstances, because perfect circumstances won’t happen. Instead, first, just go – and the rest will fall into place along the way.
2. …But Do Some Research
That being said, a little research about what lies ahead is always a good idea – a lesson I learned the hard way after miscalculating some distances and ending up crossing the Andes in the pitch-black night through a snowstorm, all because I didn’t take into account that even when the distance is the same, mountain roads and straight roads do not amount to the same time needed to cover the miles. Terrain, topography, road surfaces – all come into play when planning a day’s route.
3. Pack Light
This one is self-explanatory, but it took me a while to figure out motorcycle luggage after traipsing across South America with two tatty backpacks strapped on the back of the bike. If I had to do it again, I’d pack 50% less and try to find some sort of a soft pannier solution rather than a towering backpack construction.
4. Be Kind to Everyone…
No matter how moody the border officials or policemen may be, no matter how much pointless bureaucracy you may need to deal with, no matter how much of a shit day you may have had, always be kind to everyone – you never know what they’re coming from, how much of a shit day they may have had, and what set of circumstances they’re in. When in doubt, err on the side of kindness.
5. …Including Yourself
That’s still a tough one for me – it’s easy to kick yourself when you’ve messed up, gotten into a stupid situation you could have avoided, wrecked your bike in a race you’ve had no business being in in the first place, or didn’t listen to good advice. It happens – learn the lesson and move on, because guilt and regret are the two most unproductive feelings in the world.
It’s OK to have no-shower days and wash your socks inside out…it’s never OK to misplace your toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss. Never.
7. Step Outside Your Bubble
Even when traveling solo, it’s easy to stay in your own worldview bubble and feel perplexed when the world refuses to work the way you’re used to; shed the bubble and accept things and people as they are. When they come to Europe, Bolivians or Ecuadorians don’t harass German or French border officials that their customs procedures are cumbersome, yet Westerners feel free to demand South America to function the way their home countries do – and that’s not cool. I still feel bad about going off on a Bolivian customs officer when in fact it was my own fault for not having the bike’s import document in order, despite the system being somewhat confusing.
8. Make Your Own Bucket List
Machu Picchu was indeed awesome, as was the mountain road leading to it, but now, I’d much rather spend a week exploring the ruins and off-road trails around Kuelap instead; Ushuaia, The Ultimate Adventure Motorcycling Destination, felt more than underwhelming – but Chilean Patagonia around Puerto Tranquilo was awe-inspiring in every way. Sure, some bucket list destinations are worth it, but it’s always best to make your own lists and explore what you want to explore. After all, it’s your trip.
9.Listen to the Locals
If a Colombian military officer tells you to turn around and stick to the main road because the region you’re trying to enter is a tad unstable right now, listen, thank them, and turn around. If an Argentinean police officer advises you not to cross a mountain pass in Tierra del Fuego because heavy snowfall is expected, listen and stay put until the weather clears… Both lessons learned the hard way.
10. Maintain Your Bike…
It doesn’t matter if you can fix things yourself or need to take the bike to a moto shop – for the love of all that is good in this world, maintain your bike. Out of sheer inexperience, I failed to maintain my bike more often than I dare to admit, and it never ended well.
11. …And Your Sanity
The same goes for your state of mind: there are times to push and power through, but there are times where if you keep pushing, you may just end up in burnout. It’s OK to take breaks, visit home, change your route or plans completely, say farewell to your riding buddies if it’s not working out (or, equally, find other riders if traveling solo isn’t for you), adjust expectations, or do a pivot turn and reconstruct your entire ADV plan. There’s no such thing as One ADV Formula – or one bike, one route, one destination – to Rule Them All, so find your own and keep rediscovering it until you hit gold.
If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger ADV self? Share in the comments below!