“Tierra del Fuego” or the “Land of Fire” is the English translation for the southern most tip of the Argentine province in South America. This destination has called to Johnston’s adventure spirit since 2015 and though he has started to put plans together for the trip, life trials and events have postpone his plans. Until now, 2017, he has put the wheels in motion and the reality of him actually starting on his trip is looking more real.
I wrote briefly about my brother in law in an article named Adventure Companions. When I first met him, he was already an avid and experienced surfer and backpacker. As the years have gone by, his adventures have led him to rock climbing, mountaineering, snowboarding, skiing, mountain biking, diving and his favorite…motorcycling. His motorcycling buddies described him as a “..natural on all things 2 wheels.”
The interview below is a start of a series of articles as we follow Johnston on his mega-trip. I hope you enjoy our interview.
VFT: Johnston, how did you get involved in adventure sports and what motivated you to go on this trip?
JJ: Like many other adventurers out there, I started with car camping, backpacking and hiking. As your comfort level rises so do the days and difficulty level of the trips. Then I started rock climbing to supplement the skills necessary for mountaineering. All the while I was also obsessed with mountain biking which next to surfing has become my life outside of family and work. I went from cross country racing to all mountain and eventually got hooked with Downhill mountain biking. From a young age I have always wanted to venture out on my own going further outside of my comfort zone. As a kid I would ride on the back of passenger jeepneys, (public transportation in the Philippines) hanging on a rail for a cheaper fare and travel to the next city just to go. Safe to say, I’ve had a case of wanderlust at a very early age.
I’ve been riding motorcycles seriously since right after high school. My best friend Allen and I were both infatuated with sport bikes and within 5 years have already gone through a few different bikes. We both befriended a guy at work who also shared the same passion for bikes, only he was more into his Goldwing and quads. It didn’t take long before we all got together and rode through the local canyons and then to Big Bear which is the closest local mountains and then on to our first 3 day ride. The trip was to ride through the Sierra Nevada’s making a stop at Whitney Portal, Mammoth Lakes and to Yosemite. That trip spawned many other memorable multi day camping trips on the motorbikes.
After reading the book “Long way Round” a motorbike trip around the world from Scotland to New York, my horizon just got a bit wider. I started thinking of longer trips and farther destinations. Up to this point, the most days I’ve spent on the bike was a week and the furthest I gotten was Lake Tahoe in the California/Nevada border. It was time to go longer and further. In December of 08′ I purchased my new Adventure Touring bike, a BMW F800GS, the excitement was through the roof. I was getting ready a true adventure, 3 weeks traveling from California to Canada which I titled “Canadian National Parks tour”. A fully self supported motorbike/camping trip through some of the most beautiful landscapes in North America. Up to this point, this has been my most EPIC adventure filled with incredible memories of experiences both in places I visited and with the people I’ve met. I now feel that I am a bonafide “adventure rider”.
VFT: Where will your adventure take you this time?
JJ: 2017 is going to be my BIG year! I’m going to ride my motorbike south, to “Tierra del Fuego” or “Land of Fire”, which is the southernmost tip of the South America. It will be a 6 month journey from California through Central and South America. Destinations will include but not limited to surfing in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, sailing the San Blas islands off Panama, exploring Machu Pichu, riding Bolivia’s death road, Salar de Uyuni, the Atacama desert in Chile and finally exploring PATAGONIA!
VFT: What motivated you to take on this endeavor?
JJ: After feeling the itch for a long time and reading about my good friend’s similar trip, it’s on. It’s my turn. I’ve long dreamed for an adventure of this magnitude and like they say, “I’m not getting any younger” or “get busy living or get busy dying”. The time is now.
VFT: What do you hope to gain and come back with from experiencing this trip?
JJ: You know I haven’t really put any real thought to what I wish to gain from this trip. I do hope to gain the experience of being able communicate and work with people from different cultures with different statuses at different stages of their lives. I hope to get a greater appreciation of what I have in terms of family, friends and just my life in general.
VFT: What preparations have you made?
JJ: So far, majority of my preparations have been with prepping the bike. This includes maintenance and repair, testing different devices to be used and most of all learning and getting comfortable with the bike. Most recently, I have researched transporting me and the bike from Panama to Colombia via boat or ship, as there is a section known as the Darien Gap that is not” motorable”. Also, since it is a one way trip on the motorbike, I needed to research how and how much to ship the bike back from Buenos Aires. One advice I got from my friend Jason, who has done this trip, was to learn and be as fluent as possible in local language so I started brushing up on my Spanish. I do plan on staying a week in Nicaragua to surf and take Spanish lessons at the same time. Hopefully by the time I get to South America proper, I would have no problems communicating.
The biggest preparation (challenge) has been to just save enough money to fund the trip and continue to pay for the monthly bills and hopefully have a little reserve for when I return. Since I will be quitting my job, it will be uncertain how long it would take for me to get back to the grind. It’s a good thing I got myself a sugar momma that will be supporting me for when I get back (hopefully she will be waiting).
VFT: (hey , that’s my sister bub.)
VFT: What challenges do you foresee and what are your plans to manage?
JJ: Other than saving money for the trip everything has been pretty easy. The only concern I have is that is has been too easy. Not really sure what to make of that. I guess since I plan to just fly by the seat of my pants, there’s really not too much to prepare for. Don’t get me wrong, I have and am trying to plan as best I can but since I’m not much of the anal type, I find a lot of things not as important as others would. I hope this doesn’t bite me in the arse later.
From what I have heard and read, one of the major challenges will be how to get past corrupt government officials and save my cash by not paying out bribes. There’s also lots of talk about safety in certain parts of certain countries. I will rely mainly on common sense and past experiences to try to identify and steer clear of iffy situations. I will try to follow advice from other travelers such as traveling only in the daytime, if camping try to be incognito. If staying in the village, try asking for permission to stay on a family’s property. Most of all, always be respectful, avoid being flashy and always stay sharp with the situational awareness. I feel that there’s really not too much one can do to mitigate all possible dangers other than just staying home. In the wise words of Ewen McGregor “if we knew that everything would be safe, would there be any point in doing it?” I guess it wouldn’t be much of an adventure if there were no risks.
VFT: Johnston, thank you but this is not the end. Do you have any parting words until next time?
JJ: One thing that I have learned in all my years of adventuring is that we can make do with very little. In almost every trip, I end up over packing, carrying way more supplies than is necessary. I am going about this trip with simplicity and humility. I will take it day by day and mile by mile. I won’t mind putting myself at the mercy of others if such occasion arises.
VFT: Johnston, the journey is just starting and I can’t wait for all the stories when you return on this mega trip.