Jay Rasmussen and his son, Conor, were on a mission when they traveled 12,000 miles by motorcycle from their Roseville home to Buenos Aires, Argentina, last summer. Actually, two missions: Get to know a dozen or so countries up and down the Americas, and get to know each other better.
Mission accomplished on both fronts. “We got really close,” said Conor, 19, a student at Bethel University, where his father is an education professor.
The two shared their thoughts about the journey aboard 2009 Kawasaki KLR 650s less than a year after returning, even though, as Jay said, “I still haven’t processed it all.”
Q: Did the trip meet your expectations?
Conor: It was different in every great way possible. You always have expectations and they always change, but I wouldn’t trade a thing about this trip.
Jay: It exceeded mine. Walking into a trip like this I think it’s key not to have so many expectations. We knew every single day would bring surprises. Our motto is: “The end is nothing, the road is everything.” It’s about enjoying each day. Both of us had a hard time coming back.
C: Every day we tried to process what our favorite thing was. It helped to reflect and process like that.
Q: What was your favorite part?
J: For me the favorite country was by far Colombia. It’s so green. The roads are a motorcyclist’s dream, curvy and beautiful. Also, the people were the friendliest. They’re so happy to see others recognize that they have a real cool country, that it’s not the country we heard about five or 10 years ago.
C: I liked Peru a lot. The Sacred Valley, and mountain after mountain with no people. The colors in the sunsets, I’ve never seen before.
Q: Were you able to actually enjoy the scenery, or were your eyes on the road ahead all the time?
J: There are times like that, yes, especially for the leader, when you are looking at the road 100 percent of the time. Overall, 60 percent road, 40 percent views.
C: I’m about the opposite. That’s why I’d get in trouble more. One time I ran off into the sand.
Q: How was the food?
J: We made a conscious decision to eat what everyday people would eat. On a motorcycle you can smell well, and when we’d smell someplace that seemed good, we’d stop. The average meal was a couple of bucks. We did take probiotics. Conor likes beef jerky so we carried a lot of that, plus peanut butter and powdered Gatorade. The best food was in Mexico.
Q: You took a lot of photos and wrote about the trip every few days, right?
J: My photo skills really got better. I would process film every night. For me the photography was about telling the story. People now are really visual. I want people to understand Mexico, show them what it really looks like and try to bring people into it. They’re the carriers of the culture. Every time we went to a new country, we’d say, “Let’s try to figure this out.”
Q: Were there perils and harrowing experiences?
J: We had some theft but never really felt in danger. Because of previous trips, we perceived that what others might see as dangerous, we’re OK with. The most harrowing part was heading to Ollantaytambo, where we caught a train to Machu Picchu. We went from sea level in Lima to 17,000 feet. We got off our bikes and couldn’t stand up [because of the thin air]. From that point — we actually were going down in elevation — it was very harrowing, riding on back roads on our way to Cuzco [the main city near Ollantaytambo]. We were doing just 110 miles a day and it still took us 12 hours.
C: We were in a town with no gas, no power, and I remember looking up and I’d never seen that many stars before.
J: The roads kind of shaped how we felt about a country. In Nicaragua, we turned a corner and there was a pothole the size of two cars.
Q: Did you map out every day?
J: We had a very, very definite day-by-day itinerary. We were really precise with that. Because we needed to be on that boat [that makes one trip a year from Panama to Cartagena, Colombia, avoiding a 60-mile stretch controlled by drug lords], we couldn’t get behind. So we had a heavier push at the start.
C: And on the morning of our boat trip, they messed up our laundry and we made it with just a half-hour to spare.
Q: Did you encounter many animals on the road?
C: We narrowly avoided a small zoo on roads.
J: Every day involved animals in the road: dogs, donkeys, chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, oxen, cows. You learn to look for leashes. But no snakes, no monkeys.
C: There were a lot of birds that wouldn’t fly away. A lot of vultures [eating roadkill], and they’re just not going to give it up.
Q: Were you able to communicate with the locals?
C: We understand better than we speak [he’s Mexican-American]. I grew in confidence. My travel Spanish is a lot better than my conversational Spanish.
J: I knew a little more. You have to use it; there is no option. The place that nailed us is Argentina. The accent is so different there. Someone would say something, and we’d look at each other and go “What did that person just say?”
Q: How did you communicate with each other while riding?
C: Usually the [lead rider] did all that. We had this warm-up trip to Seattle and developed signals that probably no one else would understand. The lead person had to pay more attention, and we would signal with our feet that something strange was coming.
J: I think we got to where we just knew what the other one wanted to communicate. When Conor was the leader, he would stop a lot at spots where he knew I’d want to take pictures. We always kept within sight of each other. Anything can happen in the flash of a second.
C: We almost always got lost, but we never got separated.
J: You go there with two people, you’ve got to come back with two.
C: And it needs to be the same two.
Q: So what’s next?
J: We literally were planning our next trip within three days of getting back. We threw around India. Conor is interested in Alaska. I want to go back to South America and Central America. There’s so much there we haven’t seen.
C: We’re looking at a car-motorcycle trip for the family [including his mother and sister]: Colorado, Glacier, Banff and Jasper [national parks], maybe Alaska. … After this trip, I decided I wanted to be a teacher. We were in Peru and there are a lot of indigenous people there. And I kept hearing stories about how they did not understand their culture, that their history wasn’t taught. And we have people here, like the Hmong who might feel like they’re not represented [in education], and their culture is not valued. So I want to teach about that.
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