(First published in the Airdrie City View on June 2, 2016)
On May 31 Airdrie residents Don and Carole Nelson embarked on a year-long adventure – riding their motorcycle 52,000 kilometres to South America and back.
Though the couple had floated around the idea of the journey since 2012, Nelson said the death of too many close friends in the past five years prompted them to decide now was the time to get on the bike and go.
“I don’t want to fall into the category of being the guy found dead at the desk,” he said.
Nelson’s obsession for motorcycles sprouted from a dare by a friend in 2009 to get his motorcycle license.
He did, and with Carole following suit in 2012, the two took to the road – arriving at the northernmost border crossing between Canada and the United States at the Top of the World Highway and the following year travelled through 13 states in three weeks.
On a motorcycle, Nelson said it’s just the rider and the environment, and that is a freeing feeling.
Not trapped in a car, the rider can smell everything, taste everything and see everything.
“It’s a very visceral experience,” Nelson said.
Straight out of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the couple is riding a Russian-made Ural motorcycle with a sidecar.
Though the bike has better tooling, tolerance and reliability, Nelson said the design of the Ural hasn’t substantially changed since it was first introduced on the market in 1937.
People have always been drawn to the bike, he said, and that allows the couple to break down barriers and create conversations with those they encounter along the way.
“Everyone comes to the bike,” he said. “It’s a very, very unique contraption and a lot of people look at it with a great interest to see what that thing’s all about.”
Departing from Calgary May 31, the two will travel to California before crossing the border into Mexico, then Central America and finally South America.
The journey will take them to around 19 countries, he said, at a pace of about 400 to 500 kilometres a day in North America and a few hundred while in Central and South America.
Carole said many people who embark on these kind of trips try to do it as cheap and fast as possible, which is not the couple’s intention.
“It’s an adventure and a time in our lives to regroup,” Nelson said. “We care about how many memories we build.”
With a range of 200 kilometres on a tank of gas, the Ural is equipped to hold two 10-litre canisters for the stretches that surpass fuel range.
They have also fastened five additional tires onto the bike, as the sidecar needs a special kind with a strong sidewall that is most likely impossible to find in South America, Nelson said.
In terms of mechanical breakdowns, he said he has had the bike dissected right down to the frame to get to know every inch of it. Like the tires, however, he figures parts will be a challenge if needed.
“We’re in the worst of the worst situation because we have a Russian motorcycle in South America,” he said.
Wanting to make a difference in the countries they travel through, the Nelsons won a spot to be a Catalyst Traveler through the Do Good As You Go outreach program, sponsored by Horizons Unlimited and the Muskoka Community Foundation.
The two will be delivering a computer device called Raspberry Pi with a Wi-Fi connection to communities without Internet so kids can log on through the KALite program from the Khan Academy and the Bill Gates Foundation and be schooled in subjects such as math, science, art and history.
“It really is quite extraordinary,” Nelson said. “The idea is that if we lift education everywhere, that just helps everybody.
“We’re really hopeful that this will actually pan out and allow us to pay a little back.”
Their journey, entitled The Blue Dot Trot, can be followed throughout the year at thebluedottrot.wordpress.com