In a small industrial town in the southeast of Germany, my grandfather is about to die. Cornered by Nazi soldiers, his outbursts and protests against the Third Reich are going to come to a bloody, violent end. He will leave behind a wife, twin daughters, and an eight year old son.
For his trangressions and refusal to cooperate with the war effort, all holdings of my grandfather’s family are seized by the Nazi regime.
+ + + +
My father is 19 years old. For him, for the people of eastern Germany, and indeed for the millions trapped behind the Iron Curtain, the end of World War II heralds the beginning of what will be 40 years of occupation. Holdings and properties that had been seized by the Nazis were subsequently grabbed by Soviet forces who occupied the region, which were then seamlessly transitioned into the control of the puppet East German government formed in 1949.
My teenaged father, along with many of his compatriots, has seen enough of Soviet-style communism and oppression. Farewells are made to his twin sisters, their husbands, his mother, and his aunts and uncles, who all have been living under a single roof since the war. Determinedly, he attempts to make the potentially deadly escape from East Germany and cross the heavily guarded border into the freedom of the west.
After a month of subsequent imprisonment, he agrees to the terms of his release, which include a signed oath to never again make such an attempt, at the threat of further incarceration for himself and, additionally, his family.
Three weeks later, my father tries once more. This time he is successful, and he escapes into West Germany. He won’t see his family again for over 15 years.
I won’t pretend that there’s any correlation between my forefathers determined courage, and anything I’ve encountered in my life, let alone how it might remotely relate to a 5000 mile motorcycle ride through parts of South America.
Its significance is only this… I most definitely descend from a long line of stubborn, unwavering, sometimes obstinate authority-questioning Teutonic ancestors, at our best when swimming upstream.
Unlike my forefathers, I can claim no righteous stand against oppression and tyranny. But as any solo adventurer can attest, a certain personal obstinance is required if you wish to succeed.
Because, firstly, you need to confidently make your stand against the naysayers who have, amazingly always at the ready, a mountain of reasons why you shouldn’t go, as they beg of you to reconsider.
Secondly, in those dark moments during the adventure when those people are possibly, remotely, in some small way… correct… you will need some stubborness and willfulness to see you through.
Nevertheless, let’s examine the Top 15 reasons as to why this solo ride is ill-advised:
1) Motorcycles are dangerous.
2) The only Spanish you speak is from the menu at Señor Fish.
3) You might get hit by a banana truck on some desolate Patagonian dirt road.
4) You might get hit by a banana truck in the middle of Santiago.
5) You don’t know the region very well.
6) You don’t know the region at all.
7) Local banditos/revolutionaries will steal your stuff and hack you to pieces with a machete(s).
8) You won’t be prepared for the wind/cold/rain/snow.
9) You don’t have a daily itinerary.
10) You’re completely unprepared.
11) You can’t rebuild a motorcycle engine.
12) South America has jungles. Jungles are dangerous.
13) Your loved ones will worry about you (note: they worry anyway).
14) Verizon doesn’t have cell towers in Tierra del Fuego.
15) There are less lethal ways to enjoy solitude.
There are two things in common with every single person who contributed to The List.
– None of them ride a motorcycle.
– None of them have ever been to South America.
Long, uncomfortable silence. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barks.
Okay… I know their concerns come from the right place, that they care and want to keep me out of harm’s way. Their love does not go unnoticed, nor unappreciated.
Nevertheless, I will arm myself with little more than my lifelong dedication to unprepared preparedness, and the absolutism that riders and explorers know instinctively, intuitively…
Certainty is the natural enemy of adventure.