“You know we could have done this trip in a Honda CRV,” Dom said flatly after a dinner consisting of papusas in El Salvador. “We could roll the windows down and get the smells; there’d be plenty of room for gear in the back. It’s all-wheel drive, and it would still technically be overlanding,” he added.
“Yeah, but there is something more romantic about taking a trip like this on a motorcycle,” I replied.
Dom and I met on our first day at Embry-Riddle’s Prescott Campus in 2007 while getting our vaccinations. He was getting jabbed in the arm and as my name was called, he looked my way and said, “Hey, I think you’re my roommate!” We have remained friends ever since.
We both loved motorcycles and would discuss plans for future trips late into the night in our dorm room. Back then, we mostly dreamed of buying Harleys and riding Route 66. Quite a tame trip compared to what we had been through over the last couple of weeks in Central America — the first of three legs en route to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, aka the “End of the World.”
Truth be told, driving a CRV to South America would be a lot easier but also more predictable. Where is the adventure in that? Riding a motorcycle on the other hand is the bipolar approach: the good days are phenomenal but the bad days can be really bad.
Riding through northern El Salvador to reach the Pacific Ocean was one of our best days. Roads that are gloriously smooth (compared to the rest of Central America) snaked up and around the country’s mountainous volcanic network. On this particular day, a high pressure ridge off the coast brought wonderful clear skies and warm weather, letting us dry our undies strapped to the top of our bags.
We decided to take the road less traveled through a tiny speck of a town called Santa Isabel. Steep cliffs met the sky on the sides of the road. Occasionally, the verdant branches forming a tunnel over the road would be interrupted by brilliant splashes of bright pink trees in bloom. Upon reaching the sleepy town of Santa Isabel, the map told us to head straight through town. But on the other side, the road ran out at a rocky trail.
“This can’t be right,” I muttered, and we circled around the town three times, much to the delight of the locals. How could that trail be the continuation of the road, when the road to this point had been so smooth? “Let’s do it, Dom,” I said over the intercom.
Imagine the smoothest road you’ve ever been on; now think of the total opposite. It was more of a goat path than a road. And it clearly doubled as a river during the wet season. Softball-sized rocks covered hard pan and smooth car-length-size stones. Despite falling hard and bending one of my boxes, the road was a blast. The front wheels of the bikes would whip, slide and bounce over every rock, making control at any speed difficult to say the least. “We couldn’t do that in a CRV,” Dom later admitted.
That night, as I lay in a hammock near the beach, reflecting on the trip so far, I was reminded of a Jimmy Buffet song. Despite the ride being exceptional that day, I realized that even the worst days on two wheels in paradise are better than any other day elsewhere (and our tires are mostly immune to “pop tops”).
We are now planning the second leg of our journey from Colombia to Peru, which will take place in December of 2017.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Trevis “T.J.” Matheus (’11, PC) earned a B.S. in Applied Meteorology and Dominic “Dom” Metcalf (’11, PC) earned a B.S. in Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle. In May, Matheus earned a Ph.D. in Geography at Indiana University. He is now an assistant professor at California State University Fullerton. Metcalf is an air traffic control specialist at Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center in Leesburg, Va. For more: thewaysouth.com.