Kevin Chow has just completed the first leg of an epic journey.
The Quesnel-born-and-raised motorcycle enthusiast embarked on a trip of a lifetime last February, with plans to circumnavigate the globe by bike.
On Feb. 5, 2018, 364 days after he began, Kevin made it to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the Americas.
”Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to go around the planet,” he says.
His plans to do it by motorbike took shape almost 15 years ago, when he started a savings account specifically for this trip.
When he and his wife split up a few years ago, it was a catalyst to turning his travel dreams into reality.
“Nothing was stopping me except my job. So I quit, sold the house and started planning.”
Kevin’s route first took him from the Lower Mainland up to Alaska and back. He then began his journey south, down the coast of the western United States and into Mexico.
He’s since travelled through 12 other countries to make it to the tip of Argentina. Mapped out on Google, Kevin’s trip looks straightforward. It’s been anything but.
“I have to change my route daily,” he says.
“I’ll get into a town, camp or stay in a hostel. I’m usually able to find Internet, and I get on a map app, which helps me look ahead a few towns down. There are pins from other travellers, so you can look at what’s ahead for where you can sleep and eat.
“I always have a destination, but sometimes you don’t make it, or someone else recommends somewhere else. There’s usually a rough plan, but every day is different.”
There have been many unexpected road blocks – some literal – along the way.
“I was between some towns in southern Colombia, where there’s one road between the two towns. Often, locals will set up barricades on this road to show the government they can take control and stop goods going back and forth,” says Kevin.
“I was riding with Steve, a guy I’d met from California, and we ended up going through a blockade, not realizing that’s what it was. It was some bamboo on the road, and we thought it was roadwork.”
The pair approached a line of trucks, where men wearing bandanas across their faces and machetes on their hips were standing around. Kevin says the alarm bells started ringing.
“Everyone was out of their cars, the police were walking up the road. The guys with the machetes started breaking bottles, stringing barbed wire, and began to slash the truck tires in the line, coming down into the crowd and damaging vehicles.”
The pair considered turning back, but were told the men had closed off the other side, where they’d just come from. The foreigners were now stuck between two blockades.
“Steve and I were like, ‘What do we do?’ They could take our bikes. You don’t know what is going to happen.”
Luckily, a local motorcyclist recognized them as tourists, and offered to help.
“He walked up to the guys in bandanas, talked to them, and came back and told us we had to go right away.
“We followed him through the blockade, past barbed wire, over top of glass and rocks, through these guys with machetes who were all looking at us….
“It was definitely scary.”
Other than that, Kevin says he’s had only a few flat tires, and one slightly more catastrophic break down in Ecuador, when a seal blew in his engine.
Kevin says he tries to be very aware of his surroundings, and of what potential dangers could be lurking.
“I’ve been on the road for a year and I’ve had only a couple of instances now where that little alarm is going off in my head.
“I rode through Copper Canyon in Mexico, and that was all rainbows and lollipops, even though it is one of the most dangerous places in the country. You just never know what to expect.”
Kevin says once he entered Mexico, he set himself some rules and sticks to them.
“I have three rules. Don’t ride at nighttime, don’t crash and don’t crash.
“The big thing is not riding at night. There are no streetlights, there are potholes, construction, cattle and animals.
“My days are 250- to 350-kilometre days, which takes me from 8 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m. with a couple of stops. You average 45 -50 km per hour because the roads are dirt or really twisty. The distances are short, but the days are long.”
Best of the best
Although there have been hard times, Kevin says overall the trip has been full of amazing scenery and exciting terrain.
He adds Colombia was a highlight, with its twisty-turny roads that are “paradise” for off-road motorcycles.
“And Peru’s roads were my favourite. You’re doing three mountain passes a day, down in a valley and going up to 13-14,000 feet and then back down to eight or 9,000 feet. The altitudes were huge.”
But Kevin says Honduras was the biggest surprise.
“You don’t hear a lot about Honduras besides that it’s dangerous, so a lot of people get through it and don’t spend any time in the country.
“I was riding with a guy I’d met named Alan, and we decided to spend a week there. I’m really happy we did.
“They don’t get a lot of tourists because people are scared to go there, so the locals were so excited to meet people from another place, and were so welcoming.”
There was also another unexpected turn of events that is shaping how he approaches the rest of his trip.
In the south of Mexico, he met fellow motorcyclist Claire Newbolt. She was travelling the opposite way, having started in Chile and making her way up to B.C.
They hit it off, and decided to spend two weeks together.
“It was an unexpected turn of events,” says Kevin, who recently spent a month with Claire in Australia, where she now lives.
Their meeting in Mexico caused a detour, and the pair later met up in the United States to ride the continental divide together over the summer.
Kevin says Claire plans to join him along his journey, and he may take another break in Australia this year.
After an entire year on the road, Kevin has embraced being a minimalist, packing only what he needs and not bringing home extra keepsakes or souvenirs.
He’s got his camera, and is documenting the trip on his blog and social media.
”In some ways it’s nice, you have three pairs of underwear and two pairs of socks and it’s easy. But it’s also really nice to get back into a house and have running water and a coffee maker and a fridge to put food in…” he laughs.
“I miss hot water. A shower. Actual coffee, not instant coffee. Colombia has the best coffee in the world, and the locals prefer to drink juice.”
Kevin has now covered 45,500 km on his trusty motorcycle, and his trip is only just beginning.
“I originally thought it would take me about two years, but I’m only about a third of the way done.”
Kevin says he’s not looking forward to Europe, simply because of the cost, but he is excited to ride through Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Iran.
“But even that route might change. It’s all exciting. When you get to be on a motorcycle every day, it’s rad.”