(If you're just coming to the blog and want to read from the beginning of the trip, start here.)
Final thoughts from both of us:
There's a lot that could be said about the trip. Hopefully our stories and photos give some sense of the experience. One theme that was frequently on my mind, however, was about keeping track of risk. In any journey of this kind, there are a million variables and potential mistakes. It's a given that mistakes will be made. Some of those mistakes could be catastrophic, like driving recklessly on a gravel switchback; some are mere nuisances. So you do things to mitigate them: Drink tons of water. Constantly inspect your gear. Drive defensively. Stay alert. etc. There are "known" potential hazards, and they're worth being concerned with up to the point that they can be controlled.
But other risks are amorphous, like the probability of being attacked by bandits while camping by the side of the road. Unless you're in a region filled with roving bandits - like parts of Mexico, perhaps - that kind of risk is, I think, pointless to worry about. Such a crazy scenario is as likely to happen locked safely at home as in a remote field, and both are infinitesimally improbable. You do the little you can to prepare for such a wildcard - carry a weapon of some sort, or at least a phone - but otherwise it's not worth any thought. (And once that's decided, the choice of camping in a town square or a remote field is simpler: how much privacy do we want?)
Of course we did make some mistakes, of the expected kind. We skipped a side-case inspection in Tilcara and lost my good cold-weather gloves. I dropped the bike a few times on uneven terrain. (Fortunately the bike has steel bars preventing any actual damage from a stationary fall.) I probably drove a little too fast for safety (or passenger comfort) a few times. But we got home each in one piece, with no damage to the bike that a good scrub couldn't undo, and with an experience we'll remember (and hopefully repeat, in other corners of the world) forever.
When we got back from our trip, my dad remarked, "Steph you are never the type of person I thought would get on a motorcycle, let alone take an eight-day motorcycle trip." And it's true. I never thought I would ride a motorcycle. I don't even like cars, I never dreamed about cross-country road trips. I tend to curse at motorcycles as they rev their engines and weave in and out of traffic.
We knew we wanted to use our year in Argentina to travel. Patagonia for sure, and Machu Picchu. But I also wanted to see Argentina, as much of the country as I could. Once I started researching, I knew I wanted to see the northwest — gorgeous desert landscapes, indigenous history, the Andes. Flying is expensive, 24 hours is a long time to spend on a bus. But on a motorcycle, you can cover a lot of ground and see everything along the way.
Before we left, Ben was describing how motorcycles lean into curves and he said that sometimes first-time passengers get scared by this, and lean the opposite direction, screwing up the bike's balance. But I got on for the first time, we turned, and I leaned. It was natural. And exhilarating. It reminded me of skiing — you would never lean out of a turn on skis, just as you wouldn't lean out of a turn on a motorcycle. And so I leaned into turns as we climbed through a cloud forest, as we made our way up switchbacks, through mountains canyons and down into river valleys. The closeness to the road makes riding a motorcycle a much more visceral experience than driving in a car. And I loved it.
As Ben said, it's an experience we hope to repeat in other corners of the world. And I might just learn to drive.