If you are ever looking for a beautiful, tropical destination to get away from it all, consider Costa Ricaīs Nicoya Peninsula. We spent three days in Santa Teresa where I got to see my old friend Tomas Ritchie whom had met on a previous trip there. Consistent surf, tasty food, friendly people, diverse wildlife, amazing waterfalls & pristine beaches - Costa Rica has it all. Upon ferrying back to the mainland, I got reacquainted
with two very good buddies. Fourth Gear & Fifth Gear. It seemed like it had been so long but as always, they didn't let me down.
There is a nasty disease going around Costa Rica. In fact, I already had it and quite honestly, I think I passed it on to my dad. It comes when you least expect it but luckily it only lasts for about three hours. Its symptoms are quite noticeable - it absolutely robs the power of your 1200GS and renders it completely useless. A couple days ago, my dadīs bike would barely move. It could hardly climb a hill while the rpmīs were
cranked at 7000 in first gear! It was as pathetic as my facial hair. We had bought some fuel additive to boost our octane levels but it didnīt seem to have an immediate impact. We even contemplated the notion of putting it in the back of a truck and going back to the dealership in San Jose. It wasnīt supposed to be like that...what a disaster that would be. However, we let his bike sit for about an hour and when we mounted up again, she rode like a freakinī dream...We were back in business, īLetīs Rideī!
My dad and I came along on this trip with two very good friends that have been instrumental in providing for our overall well-being. For my dad, it is the Garmin BMW GS compatible StreetPilot 2610 GPS Navigation System that is mounted between his handlebars. This thing is cool! They have such pinpoint accuracy and tell you precisely where you are in the word, where you're heading, how far and how long it will take. It's unbelievable and for him, it makes for a pretty damn good co-pilot.
For myself my favorite recent technical advancement simply comes in the form of an iPod. Tragically, I lost mine at Whitewater two weeks before my departure date. Luckily, a certain somebody lent me hers and I donīt know what I wouldve done without one. I certainly owe her a single at
Mikeīs Place when I get home...I have put together a beautiful medley of Ryanīs All Time 500 Greatest Hits that serves as the soundtrack of my life. I just get lost in my music when the likes of Nada Surf, Bloc Party, Interpol or those new Swedish alt rockers The Shout Out Louds come blaring through my headphones. Iīve created my own hi fi helmet stereo
I have gotten completely sun-kissed as I even rode without a shirt on the other day sorrymom and found it quite liberating. I felt like a new-age Lady Godiva or something like that. I realize thatīs kinda weird but letīs just go with it...
I learned a fairly common sense lesson of the road yesterday - Donīt Follow Too Close Behind Other Cars! I was behind this guy and all of a sudden - KABOOM! - I nailed a HUGE pothole. My dad said my top case launched about ten feet in the air and slid along the asphalt for another fifty. Of course it sustained some cosmetic damage but functionally everything was in tact. Lesson learned.
Shortly thereafter we crossed into Panama. The first song that randomly came through was Tom Vekīs īNothing But Green Lightsī and I couldnīt have planned a more perfect song. The roads were mint and we were stoked.
It wasnīt until Panama that I was greeted by the most infamous of them all - Sixth Gear! We were in the zone and the bikes were just ripping along, getting pulled and accelerating faster and faster. Of course like everything thus far this elation was short lived as the song shouldīve been called īNothing But Grey Lightī. The nastiest downpour suddenly beat us senseless. The rain drops were like needles, pelting us so hard that we felt like human dartboards. We were forced to pull over and put on our jackets - we just looked at each other, gave the thumbs up and hit īer bound for the town of David. My dad felt as though it was calling his name.
We then hit Panama City. A very beautiful and modern looking city that reminded me of Miami. It was here that we were meeting a girl my brother had met on his journey. A girl that he was absolutely smitten with. Her name is Ginette Nunez and we managed to stay in touch through an email
of hers we had found. She is an orthodontist now, still single and married to her work. The three of us went out for a quaint dinner on the Causeway where we enjoyed some mariscos and had a great talk. She toured us around Panama City where the highlight was crossing the Bridge of the Americas which goes over the world famous Panama Canal.
Today, we went to a place. If you are ever driving, riding or walking south, you will arrive at this place. Itīs inevitable. Itīs where freeways and interstates are eventually funneled and even the renown Panamerican Highway is long gone as it dissipates into a lonely, windy country road. Itīs a place where few other cars or people are even seen. This place doesnīt even have a name on the map, nor should it. It probably means something different to the few that actually make it here. I made up my own name for it, El Fin Del Camino. The end of the road.
There we were in front of a big lake and the Darien Gap off in the distance, an area so gnarly and full of crocodiles and druglords that they gave up building a road through it years ago. We were so far from home. By land, itīs the farthest weīve ever been. In fact, itīs probably the farthest you could possibly go. We exchanged some words, we hugged and shed a tear. It was time to point the bikes north. Weīre cominī home.MORE...
I am so proud of my dad. This trip is certainly not for the faint of heart. His friends think he's crazy. Hes absolutely killing it. I have seen him maneuver his bike up and down steep grades of washboard gravel and sand and even through washed out river crossings. I've seen him weave in and around potholes the size of craters on the moon. I've watched him negotiate heavy crosswinds and rain while cornering sharp turns. Part
Ricky Carmichael and part Valentino Rossi. I always have a watchful eye on him through my little side mirrors and heīs always right there every step of the way with that headlight brightly beaming, right on my ass. I admire his spirit of adventure and hope that I will carry that through when I'm
in my 60's and beyond.
Every morning we suit up in our gear and adorn ourselves with our blackened jerseys (which were once sparkling white) like a badge of honor. We will have a light breakfast if it is available, we gas up and give each other the handshake and I pray for the motorcycle gods to be with us another day. We board our all-terrain B.C. bound rockets with 'JWM is my co-pilot' emblazoned on our front fenders and just like that the day begins. At 7am, the road is ours to own. Within a few hours the traffic thickens and we must jockey for position. We continually battle to be in the front of the line. My dad and I share this common thread that has definitely been a key to the success of this trip - our relentless pursuit of open road. We have passed hundreds and hundreds of bikes, cars and trucks. I'm quite certain it is in the thousands. You may think this sounds reckless and unsafe but I would have to disagree. I can justify our riding style for five solid reasons:
1. Time - My dad says I have to get back to work!
2. Safety - As I can attest to, being behind other vehicles makes dodging potholes, roadkill and other hazards far more difficult.
3. Navigation - Being stuck behind trucks makes following signs more complicated.
4. Health - Who wants to choke down diesel fumes all day?
5. There ain't nothin' like open road.
By tomorrow, Mexico will mark the 7th country in as many days. We have been clocking about 500 kilometers per day and it is completely exhausting. My dadīs face is always caked with dirt and diesel exhaust. You are so worn out from all of your senses consistently being on high alert. Even that sixth sense. Not that one that lets you see dead people but that intuitive one. That one that senses dangers up ahead or lets you know when a motorist hasnīt seen you and will pull out in front of you. Like smelling the rain before the downpour. You are so completely vulnerable out there. It is humbling. I always pretend that I am invisible when I ride and nobody can see me. I become THE ghostrider. That way I expect the worst out of every driver, pedestrian, child or animal. My fingers seem to inch towards to that almighty front brake, ready to pounce
on it that moment your heart shoots adrenaline through your entire body. It has saved me many times.
The roads down here are fantastic. A few days ago I just may have ridden the most beautiful motorcycle road ever traveling from San Isidro Del General through the mountains to Cartago in Costa Rica. What a track. Even the boys from the Riding To The Moon website(moonride.org) describe it as īpure riding ecstasy'. A beautiful medley of hairpins and long sweeping rollers on high grade carpet with little traffic. We began our
ascent in the morning and it wasnīt before long that we pierced right through the cloud cover. It was brisk, I even had to switch on my handle grip warmers which some riding purists might scoff at. Iīll take that technology any day. I even almost smashed a giant vulture with my face. It was snacking on some dicey road kill and it so non-chalantly tried to get out of the way and I just missed it. I could even feel the force of air from its wings. Those have got to be the dirtiest birdies on the planet.
You really face all the elements when you are out there. It is true travelling. I will not forget the blistering heat of the Panamanian plains that came seething through the asphalt. Even at 120km/hr there is no escape from it. The mountains of Costa Rica proved to be chilly and damp and I will never forget the howling crosswinds that came sweeping off the
grandiose Lake Nicaragua literally trying to throw us off our bikes.
I must admit, these bikes garner a fair amount of attention down here. We are turning heads through every town we roll through. Quite often I will be approached by a man. He will come up to me, eye up the bike and then ask two questions. How big is the engine and how much did it cost. I would be lying to you if I told you I wasnīt overcome by a sense of guilt
every time I tell him. They look completely astonished and this then is usually followed by a look of bewilderment. I can see it in his eyes and it kills me every time. My ride probably costs more than they will gross in two decades and it leaves me wondering why I have been given so much and they have been given so little.
The other night we stayed in Danli, Honduras. I read on the Moonride journals that the boys stayed there at Hotel La Esperanza. It was the first and only hotel that we stayed in that we knew he slept in. We found it pretty cool when they gave us room number 13. That was his favorite unlucky number that he always put on all his dirtbikes. In the evening after dinner I walked around. I stumbled upon a carnival. It was four rickety old rides probably made in the 1950s. All the kids just sat
along the edge and watched the rides go round and round with nobody on them. Apparently none of them could afford it. I stood there with my heart in my throat. Beside me was a ten year old kid on a donkey. He started pounding it with his fist and pulling on its mane because it wasnt moving. The donkeys ears were out to the side the way a cats get when
its mad. It was hating life. He grabbed a brick from the ground and started pounding it in its ribs and it reluctantly started moving. His buddy even drop kicked it. I tried to tell them to stop in my gringo Spanish but it was futile. It just may very well have been one of the saddest things I have seen in my life. I have called it The Saddest Carnival In The World.
The poverty down here is heart-wrenching. I have been to poor countries before but tend to gravitate towards the nicer spots where they roll out the red carpet for tourists. This is different. Since Panama it seems with each border crossing we are taking a step deeper and deeper into poverty with El Salvador being the worst. My father and I made a stop at the Save The Children office my brother had visited in Managua, Nicaragua. The Moonriders were able to raise some considerable monies for this cause which goes towards helping under-privileged children with an emphasis on education. We both made a donation in his memory and it was comforting to know that it will be put to good use. If anyone out there is feeling charitable, consider this cause. Whether its five bucks or five hundred, he wouldve liked that but more importantly, the kids would too.MORE...
Recently I discovered a verse in Death Cab For Cutieīs aptly named and beautifully sung īBrothers On A Hotel Bedī that goes something like this:
On the back of a motor bike
With your arms outstretched trying to take flight
Leaving everything behind
But even at our swiftest speed we couldn't break from the concrete
In the city where we still reside.
I canīt tell you how many times I have felt like that and have even stretched out my left arm, feeling the rush of air and that slight sense of lift. It is as though it was written for me or I couldīve wrote that. One of the two. I see the pavement going by so quickly beneath me and in a blur I wish I could rise up on high like eaglesī wings. Donīt we all wish that?
On a very snowy Sunday in February, I was preparing to truck the bikes to Vancouver for their shipment. It truly marked the beginning of this journey. As I pulled the bikes out from my house and awaited for the boys to help me load up, I noticed an eagle in the tree. Just sitting there, watching me. Whenever I see them, I seem to stop whatever Iīm doing and I canīt take my eyes off them. The Kootenays has eagles, but they are
elusive and you donīt see them often. They are such cunning predators and the most graceful bird to watch as they soar high above at times hardly even flapping their wings. It was a beautiful moment and somehow and someway, I knew that I was in good hands with this journey. By the time the boys had arrived, I went to point it out, but it was already gone.
About two hours west of Nelson, I was driving along and noticed another eagle flying with tenacity above the river valley, in the same direction as me and pretty much at eye level. Two eagles in one day! I gradually caught up to it all the while listening to the song Homesick by the simon&garfunkelish Kings Of Convenience. I had never even heard it until then. As I caught up to it, there was that brief moment in time where I could look right into its eyes before it became lost behind trees and I had to put my eyes back on the road. It was one of those moments you never forget in your life. Everytime I hear that song I will always remember the eagle.
We seemed to be the only gringos around since leaving Costa Rica and all the way into El Salvador with the exception of running into my friends Chad Unser and Troy Pyett in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. We crossed into Guatemala and were blown away by its stunning natural beauty. It was gorgeous and green. It got me thinking about my old friend Saul who loved Guatemala and spoke of it often. The GPS came through huge on that day because there is a road from Palin to Antigua that is a 20 km stretch of dirt but itīs very difficult to find because it is begins as a trail underneath the main highway. The other option is driving 120 kms via Guatemala City. These bikes will go anywhere. While Antigua was actually out of our way, I really wanted to check it out. Somebody somewhere once said it was one of the most romantic cities in the world.
Antigua did not disappoint. It is as though the entire city was built from an old fortress. Cobblestone streets with funky yellow and orange buildings that appear to have come straight out of Spanish colonial Europe. Completely different from any other town we have seen. Excellent restaurants and shops all throughout as well. The best part was where we stayed which we found simply by asking a local where to go. The Casa Santo
Domingo (casasantodomingo.com.gt) just may very well be the best property I have ever stayed at. You would think that it was a few hundred years old but it is only fifteen years old! The property was built on ancient ruins whereby the old walls were used for the foundation of much of the grounds. There is no overhead lighting in any of the common areas which are adorned only by candlelight. The staff wear very traditionally ancient garb and were very friendly. It was classy without being pricey. It was elegant without being pretentious. The īstandardī room we had was huge with a fireplace, outdoor patio and the best part was the shower, it was everything you want a shower to be and more! It was worth every penny of
the hundred bucks we splurged to stay there. I will definitely go back to Antigua someday.
Until Guatemala, there was pretty much only one road to take us home. But now, the roads were many, criss crossing every which way. Finding our way to the Mexican border was not easy. The GPS was even having a hard time and after riding about 60 kms. around a beautiful lake, we realized we had
done a complete circle getting us nowhere. It is so mountainous. We were cold, wet and getting frustrated. We had to wear our full gear the entire day until we finally descended down to a warmer altitude at the Mexican border.
Border crossings are a challenge. It is always a 4 step process which entails exiting the country, handing in your motor vehicular permit, entering the new country and finally applying for a new permit. Just when you think things are progressing nicely, that last step of permit acquisition can be slower than a Costa Rican paving crew. It really tests your patience of which I admittedly donīt have a lot of. As well, the
process is always completely different from every other country. Sometimes it is free and sometimes it is about $10 bucks plus a tip for the amigo that is keen to help us out. We were seriously ripped off by the Hondurans charging us almost $50US each. I called them on it and they couldnīt even
look me in the eye. Corruption is a way of life down here. However it did help us receive our bikes when we didnīt have insurance and it even got me out of going to the police station for speeding...twice. But here it unveiled its ugly side and everyone seemed to be in on it. I canīt imagine the obscene corruption at the highest levels of government which is one of the many reasons for the level of poverty we are seeing.
We have now begun our assault on Mexico. It is so vast. I knew it was big, but not THIS big. The last two days have been our longest yet at 630 kms. each and it has hardly taken a bite out of its coastline. However, one thing remains for certain. It is o ours to conquer.
We have just pulled off this dark desert highway and have arrived upon a place that the engineering gurus who built these bikes must have dreamt about - Mexicoīs Baja Peninsula. A place that even I have dreamt about since listening to Chris Isaakīs classic Baja Sessions. We have arrived upon a quaint little town and are staying at none other than the legendary Hotel California in Todos Santos. I could not think of a better place but here to write this our most perilous chapter yet
It happened about five days ago. We were winding our way through a very curvaceous section of highway in the coastal Mexican mountains. It was a riderīs dream...an endless section of sharp corners without a single straight stretch to be had for miles. At times my dad will need to pull over to take care of whatever business need be. When I donīt see his headlight behind me, I typically slow down until I come to a hault. I will wait for a minute and if he still doesnīt come, I turn around and make the frightening trip back towards him, always with a pit in my stomach for fearing the worst that could happen. On this day, our worst nightmare came true.
He was not to be seen so I rode back about a kilometre and came to the spot. There were about six policemen staring at me intensely. The first thing I saw was my dadīs rear suitcase. It was completely obliterated. I then noticed smashed plastic and tools strewn all over the pavement. A policeman was holding his mangled bike upright. In behind this man, I caught my first glimpse of him. There he was, lying on the side of the road with blood running down both arms and obviously in pain. I frantically took off my helmet and ran over to him on the verge of losing all sanity.
Apparently, my dad was coming out of a sharp, uphill left-hander...a riderīs most vulnerable position to on-coming traffic. All of a sudden a white Volkswagen Bug came barreling towards him far too fast for its own good. Half of the car veered into his lane and smashed into him with his side pannier taking the brunt of the force. Instantly, my dad slammed down to the asphalt while he and bike slid about 20 feet across the pavement and ending up in the ditch. The driver of the Volkswagen didnīt even stop leaving my dad lying there in agony. I asked him if he had broken any bones and he wasnīt sure. He slowly stood up and was able to move all of his limbs. Other than being obviously shaken up with a severe case of road rash, he was doing well considering he was just hit by a car. The bike looked done but upon closer inspection, the only things broken were his blinkers and a clutch clamp.
The policemen just happened to be a minute or so behind him when the accident happened. I asked them what we could do but they just shrugged their shoulders. We were in the middle of nowhere. They told me that the nearest town was Maruata, about 30 kms. away. We were in need of a hospital, a truck and a mechanic, badly.
I hopped on my bike and headed into Maruata and lo and behold the first thing I came across was about five guys standing around a pickup doing nothing. I explained to them what happened and asked if they could help and they seemed rather excited about the mission. I grabbed a couple planks and bought some rope and we were off. We drove back through those now dreaded mountains and loaded up the bike and my dad into the truck. The nearest town that had a mechanic was about 60 kms from there but unfortunately, he was not in. We would have to drive another 60 kms to the next biggest center, Tecoman. It was the worst ride ever being out there by myself and knowing my dad was sitting in that truck with open wounds and obviously in pain.
The boys of Maruata went beyond the call of duty in saving our sorry asses on that day. My dad said they all seemed so happy, laughing and joking the whole way with one another. They drove over 200 kms in total and dropped us off at this greasy little mechanicīs abode. He was like the Yoda of the Motorcycle World. I knew we were in good hands. We tipped the boys very well and they really seemed to be happy about that. While Yoda did his magic on the bike, my dad and I cabbed to the emergency ward at the hospital. The nurses cleaned the gravel and asphalt out of his arms and got him some painkillers. For whatever reason, they didnīt even charge us anything. By that time, Yoda had the bike back in action. We loaded up and ventured into Tecoman in search of a much needed hotel.
It was nothing short of a miracle. Four hours prior my dad lay in a ditch after getting smoked by a speeding car and now he was behind me riding again. My dad is a road warrior. Why this trip isnīt over is beyond me.
Itīs difficult for me to see him in so much pain as we continue our journey. I hear him struggle to get out of bed in the morning. I see him wince every time he puts on his helmet. Ironically enough, his riding position actually is the one thing that does not give him any discomfort. Itīs anytime when he pulls our lifts something that he has a severe sharp pain underneath his shoulder blade. Despite this, he persists on riding. īLetīs Ride!ī, he exclaims.
The very next day we headed towards Mazatlan. Within an hour he was pulled over again. Flat tire. He pulled out his lilī repair kit and we McGyvered it up real good and we were back in action, again. This has been an adventure by every sense of the word. It has certainly been a lot more difficult than the 1998 ride we ventured on with Clive Jackson to the Arctic Circle. My brotherīs bike had been as far south as possible and we wanted to take it as far north as possible. We also ventured to Chile, SA in 2000 where we visited some of his favorites - La Serena, Pucon and Vina Del Mar. Other than me getting the flat tire on that trip, it was fairly smooth sailing...not like this one!
As we tackle the last 1000 kms of Baja, the most dangerous country of them all remains looming - The United States of America.
The world is a completely different place when you dont have a window in front of you. We tasted the rain, we felt the heat and the cold, we smelled the air and we most certainly saw the sights. It was a journey of the most epic proportions that spanned nearly 11,000kms and I got to experience with the best riding partner I couldve ever asked for. My dad. The Road Warrior.
I guess this is it for me. For some it may be skiing mad lines or surfing big waves. For some it might be knitting but the feeling I get out of riding my bike on twisted, desolate roads that stretch for miles in an unknown land is quite honestly overwhelming. It was a much needed spiritual awakening that, at most times, I never wanted to end. Every day we were bound for a new destination that was merely just a name on a map. That feeling of being in control of something so seemingly out of control - when the bike becomes a complex symphony of upshifting, downshifting, braking and accelerating - when not even the wind can keep my eyes dry. I guess that life thus far has offered me no greater solace.
The most profound thing of all is how this elation has truly spawned from the worst imaginable feeling that we must ever endure as humans. A pain so deep that it cuts you raw to the bone. An unthinkable loss. Theres no way that my dad would have ever gotten into biking if it werent for the love my brother had for it. But there we were, riding our hearts out and certainly overcoming adversity along the way. It was all part of the adventure and Im proud to say we made it home safely after 31 days on the road with our final day being our longest at 1100 kms of purely mindless interstate.
Down there, I saw a lot of things that were difficult to accept. The litter, the animal cruelty and, most of all, the poverty. There is such disparity in our world. It suddenly makes the things you stress out back home seem so small. I would however not imply that these people are any less happy than us. Most of them have a roof over their head, they seem healthy, they have a job and they have their family. What more could you want? They are not consumed by always wanting more and more stuff. There is such beauty in simplicity.
For those of you who enjoyed my Letters From The Road, I would like to recommend other reading and viewing that you might find interesting from the true kings of the road:
Rent The Motorcycle Diaries. The true story of a young Che Guevara who makes his way up the whole of South America from Argentina and through the snowy Andes on his bike with his buddy on the back! I thought I had it tough. This movie is beautiful.
Read Long Way Round. The epic 3 month journey of Brit celeb Ewen McGregor & his buddy Charlie Boorman as they roll their Beamers around the entire globe! Then rent the mini series from the movie store. They had a support crew with them that filmed it all and it is quite entertaining to see what they had to endure as they experience the likes of the Ukrane, Russia, Mongolia and Siberia.
Read Ghostrider written by Neil Peart who is the drummer of the famed Canadian classic rock band, Rush. Neil Pearts only daughter was driving to her first year of university and was killed in a car accident. Nine months later his wife dies of a brain aneurysm. The two loves of his life were gone. He hops on his R1100GS in pouring Toronto rain and starts riding west not knowing where he is goingand doesnt stop.
I found it interesting that Mr. Peart departed on his trip in August of 1998, the same month and year that my dad, Clive Jackson and I had departed on our healing trip to the Arctic Circle. Reading the pages of this book I certainly felt a strange connection to it. I kept looking at the back cover, staring at his picture. As he made his way north up to the Yukon, I felt as though we could have been there at the exact same time. My heart started pounding harder with every turn of the page. The way he described his surroundings and the timing we were right behind him. I continued to look at his picture on the back of this book. Then, there it was. Page 53. He devotes an entire page of being at this roadside burger stand in the middle of nowhere called Pennys and how a father and his two sons from southeast British Columbia pulled in on Kawasaki dual sport bikes heading to the Arctic Circle. It was us. I remember walking up to this man asking him where he was from. He completely humbled me with his reply. Toronto. Little did we know who this man was and little did he know that we were on a similar journey as him, looking for answers. The irony would continue as I read on. He ends up making his way to Nelson where he stays at the Best Western. He strolls to the former Heritage Inn and has some of the best Caesar salad he has ever had and writes letters to his friends from our restaurant. He feels captivated by Nelson and as he rides towards the Balfour ferry imagines himself living here, owning a little cabin and spending time on the glass calm lake in a rowing skull.
We live in such a crazy world.
Id like to thank my mom and Staci for believing in us that we could do this and letting boys be boys. Were all on this healing road together.
Id like to thank the management and staff at Martin Hotel Group who has always kept the historic Hume Hotel and the perfect Best Western Baker Street Inn shining.
Id like to thank all those guardian angels along the way who fed us, gassed us up, provided accommodations, told us where the bueno ristorantes were, provided border help, pointed us in the right direction, put the beer on ice and those who simply waved and smiled.
Id like to thank those fine men from Maruata, Mexico who saved us from a most harrowing predicament and helped us continue along our way.
Id like to thank all of you who took the time to read these and those who emailed us and encouraged us to keep writing and riding.
Id like to thank Jay for being our co-pilot this whole way and beyond. You were there when we needed you most. We miss you bro.
And lastly Id like to thank my dad. Thank you for all that you have taught me and given me in this world. Youll always be my riding partner in life. You are my hero and I love you to death. We did it.
Enjoy the ride,
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