What’s the backstory before you left to ride the Americas?

Our lives have taken us down many paths. At 19 during uni I met Jason, who was 31, on a Red Sea diving liveaboard in 2000. Since graduating, the pair of us worked regular jobs in between guiding and instructing around the globe for the best part of ten fish filled years. That feels like a lifetime ago, but diving the world-class sites together was one of the best of times.

What was the impetus towards jumping in the saddle and hitting the road?
Having learned to ride a motorcycle by accident in my early thirties—I won a two-hour taster session on a 50cc—playing house and working 9-5 wasn’t unbearable, it just wasn’t enough. With no kids in tow, a change was overdue, so we decided on a big one. Long story long, we sold our one bedroom cottage, pared down the possessions to a few boxes and packed everything we’d need on the back of our steeds.

Fortunately, we never defined success by our income or postcode, and neither of us seemed cut out for eternal domesticity, so we decided to live our life on the road. I sourced Pearl, a factory-lowered beauty on eBay. Mainly because I liked the colour; she matched my helmet much to Jason’s exasperation. Amusingly, Jason utilised my bike as the pack mule and saved his for “tech” as he calls it—a camera, its lenses, and a drone. “If I want to be better wife material, this is how I do it,” I thought as we rode onto the container ship destined for Uruguay.

How did you feel on your day of departure?

As someone that set off whose turning circle was bigger than our cargo ship’s, I was plagued by a tornado of concerns swirling in my head. But soon galvanised by Jason’s mentoring and many a helping hand en route. Setting off from my mum’s doorstep in 2014 headed for the Atlantic, I couldn’t bring myself to open my mouth just in case my heart fell out of it. So I just kept silent and looked at my mother hoping she’d intuit what I meant – that I was going to miss her. I prayed a grim nod and shaky thumbs-up would get the message across. All I wanted to achieve at that point was to reach port without dropping an overladen Pearl.

Did you anticipate being on the road for nigh five years?

No. In my head, I hoped the trip would last the planned 18 months. Jason, I know now, had other ideas. Living out an adventure side by side, we motorcycled from the southern tip of Argentina to the northernmost navigable road in Alaska. Going by the name Two Wheeled Nomad from the Antarctic to the Arctic, a life-changing, mind-bending adventure ensued, which incredibly, lasted four and a half years (February 2014 to August 2018).

Does living in such close confines with each other ever take its toll on you as a couple?

Ha hah! Of course. The gruelling satisfaction of long days in the saddle over a significant period can make or break a relationship. Although backpacking and campervanning previously for months at a time helped, life together on motorcycles is something else. It’s an extraordinary endeavour, packed with more highs than lows. Every time I rode with Jason, I loved him…even the days I loathed him! In truth, parts of the trip were painstaking for me; I often refused to trust Jason’s advice – a gnawing bone of contention for him – and it led to discomfort, but never once I did I worry about us. We endured off-road pains together, which led to feeling a terrific fondness for him. A conviction that our 19-year partnership has gone the distance and is here to stay.

What’s the best part of living on the road?

Constant companionship is the best and worst thing about long-distance motorcycle travel. Even though you love your partner, there’s only one person to listen to your frustrations, which typically involve them. If only I had a pound for every time I swallowed the words: “Captain Slow, give it some beans!” or “Come on princess, I can’t ride your bike for you!” Thankfully, we’re not grudge-bearers, but heaven forbid when one of us got hangry. My winning strategy boiled down to this: don’t nag the guy.

Sometimes he wore the trousers, sometimes I did. Fact is, I’d be lost without him…probably somewhere in Uruguay. One of the best moments on the trip for me was in 2016, a leap year. While wide-eyed watching the grey whales in Mexico, I asked Jason to marry me to which he said yes. Back in the net!

And the worst?

Our biographies are so intertwined that we share nearly every page. While our partnership has gone the distance and is here to stay, neither of us can wait to remember what it’s like to miss each other. Being in each other’s company as often as we have borders on unhealthy, but riding alone is as fun as a funeral. The stretches of technical terrain taxed our relationship, but such is life on the road. You get back on your bikes and ride together, because you need to and you want to.

We were in Argentina, en route to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, riding 145 miles on a sandy mountain pass on the border between the two countries. I envied Jason’s riding ability and watched in awe as he effortlessly rode along the soft trail. I arrived at the Chile border broken, dismounted slowly, like I was lowering myself into an ice bath. That night, Jason sat me down and pointed out that my riding style was putting us at unnecessary risk. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I didn’t want to hear a word of it, but I needed to. The repercussions of my slow, tortured riding through a remote region became clear to me: provisions ran dry, bikes overheated, daylight ran out.

I awoke after a fitful night’s sleep, ready to not make the same mistakes again. I opened Pearl’s throttle further, feeling far less strained and more in control. Mostly born out of anger. I started having fun, and soon Jason yelled through our intercom, “Lise, slow down, will you? I’m struggling to keep up. See, you can do it.” A vexing route there was velvety on our way back. I’d never ridden as aggressively before. As I glided over loose rocks, I whooped and yipped. This was good wife material. “You’re riding like a pro today, I’m impressed,” said Jason. He’s said that to me only a handful of times.

How do you afford to live such a lifestyle for as long as you have?

Neither of us earned silly money in our former lives. Just regular money, like most people. Your standard income university-educated professional on salary and earnings from a self-employed electrical contractor. It sounds obvious but start saving early. At least a year, or longer if you’re not a savvy saver. It took us well over two years. And let’s face it, financial planning is one of the least appealing aspects of facilitating a life on the road. If you’re not comfortably wealthy from the outset, my advice would be to save the travel money after non-negotiable bills first, not last. Cut everything else.

Generally, there are five solutions to making a big trip financially possible: cheaper living; selling stuff (no one regrets a good purge and it’s less to keep in storage); earning more (getting a pay-rise or a second job); cheaper travelling or pushing your trip’s start date back. I even contemplated selling my hair for £2,000, but I’m not sure Jason would have appreciated the new look. Fortunately, we bought rental property with the proceeds of selling our house, which coupled with being a travel writer and photographer couple, helps us to keep gas in the tank and foremost, the story unfolding.

Has being location independent for so long changed you as people? If so, how?

Riding through the Americas has changed us. During the trip, I decided against having a kid, which surprised the heck out of Jason. We want to see where an unscripted future takes us. Gratefully, we survived another lifetime together and acquired a priceless vault of memories in the process. Moto-travel is stitched into the very fabric of our beings.

Every time I reflect on the trip, I feel a pleasing, bone-deep certainty that happiness can be as simple as being warmed by the winter sun, dining al fresco on something locally sourced and delicious, then washing it down with a cold beer. Filled to the brim with that happy fatigue after a big hike in the backcountry. Or, making a connection with another human being – by merely dissolving into giggles with them. It’s integral to what makes me happy, finding contentment in what I’ve got and sharing that life with someone. For me, that someone is Jason. My soul mate, my best friend, sometimes my opponent, but always the love of my life.

What were your steeds and any mods made to ‘adventurise’ them for the journey?

Jason’s motorcycle
The bike of Jason’s heart is a 2008 BMW F800GS. It’s lighter than his former R1200GS, particularly noticeable in the bends with a lively engine and a top speed on par with the R1200GS. Namely, loads of fun! It was already equipped with a custom belly pan, and a set of heavy-duty engine bars so saved a few quid there, but needed to do something about the useless screen and iron-hard seat. Adding an Airhawk, an inflated air cushion that sits atop of the seat, was tantamount to riding twice the distance before his backside goes to sleep. The problem with the screen was solved with a Touratech fairing – not cheap but does a great job of protecting him from most of the wind. He also thinks it looks the business. The bike was formerly fitted with a set of Metal Mule panniers, which we replaced with the Adventure Spec Magadan MK2 saddlebags, and then supplanted with Giant Loop luggage.

Hello moto – Mr Jangles (Oct 2016 to date):
Meet Mr Jangles, my 2001 Suzuki DR650. Much taller than I’m used to, but what a joy this motorcycle is in the dirt. Entering my life during my 36th birthday celebration, our meeting kick-started well as I bonded with him throughout Canada. He glides effortlessly over gravel, weight shifts like a break-dancer and has transformed my off-road riding. I couldn’t be happier whizzing my maracas off astride this dandy DR. DR650s are mayhap one of the best-kept secrets among moto-travellers. At around 100 pounds lighter than Pearl, Mr Jangles is infinitely easier to ride in gravel.

Jason upgraded the suspension, added a bigger Acerbis tank, installed new plastics, rejetted the carburettor, opened up the airbox, fitted a lighter exhaust, and a Vapour Tech digital display. As well, an aftermarket windscreen, cruiser pegs, bigger handguard shields, and a lowered custom seat. Both bikes bear Woody’s Wheels, and we saw huge value in sticking with Heidenau K60 Scout tyres throughout the Americas. Despite lowering the DR650, I still had more clearance than Jason’s F800GS. Pearl, my former 2001 F650GS was an extremely forgiving motorcycle, a great beginner’s dual sports bike whom I adored as much as miss. After all, she did get me from the bottom of the planet to the top.

Do you need to be a half decent motorcyclist before kick-starting a big two-wheeled trip?

Goodness, no! Unlike Jason, I had virtually no riding experience, but we left anyway. During my motorcycle training, I recall wrapping myself around a lamp post, smacking into a corrugated shed wall at around 20mph during a practice emergency stop right before my test and repeatedly requesting for Jason to stop talking down the intercom on my hill starts. What a maniac! Not exactly a natural rider, ignorance is biking bliss when you’re unknowingly thrown in the deep end. I had no realistic expectation of what I was taking on, and therefore it seemed pointless catastrophising from the get-go. I’m living proof that you don’t need to fulfil the burly bloke astride his R1200GSA stereotype to set off on a bike trip. Big or small, near or far.

Where was the best place you’ve ridden, and why?

Argentina. Predominantly because of meeting lifelong biking friends who bestowed us with a 9-month long guided tour in hanging out with them as fellow riders. One of them also owned a vineyard – it was pretty much meat, Malbec and motorcycling the whole time. Due to a favourable exchange rate on top, we lived like kings and for the first time, really sank into a place. Despite our appalling Spanglish, we even toyed with the notion of moving there.

And in contrast, which country, area or region did you like the least?
Central America was probably the region we found somewhat underwhelming, although there were still exciting and pretty little pockets encountered throughout.

Where would you still like to go?

After the Africa to Norway journey, at some point we’d love to visit Mongolia, Iceland, Greenland and Nepal to name a few.

What’s next for you two?

Ultimately, the Americas trip paved the way for staying location independent. After journeying through the Americas, we’ve decided to hang up the motorcycle boots temporarily. After an intense saving period in the UK, we’ll jump in White Rhino (a 2015 Toyota Hilux) in 2019, which will see us traverse from Cape to Cape. Namely, an unassisted expedition we’re calling ‘The Mega Transect’ from South Africa to Northern Norway for about a year. We’ll go by the name Four Wheeled Nomad to tell 4WD tales on the trails. If nothing else, travelling has made us wonder if there’s enough left. But while time’s on our side, it will be through the very raw and real continent that is Africa.

As of late spring 2019, we will traverse from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland before reaching Norway. Beyond Europe, we wish to venture to Iceland, head back to Canada and eventually resume some unfinished business in South America.

Why do you love exploring?

Exploration is the one thing we look forward to practically every day; the benefits are enormous for the physical and mental self. Boundaries among people are broken down. Above all, it’s real. Arguably, we all too often spend too much time indoors, “plugged in” and under artificial light. So anything that sees us outside to step back into nature and experience the world directly is positive. Without a filter and all the stimuli that do nothing but distract us as time-stealers all day. Overlanding allows us to rediscover the rhythms of the day and enjoy the seasons. Whether on a trail, hill or mountain, wandering the earth is an unscripted way to connect to your surroundings, engage with people and stay mindful. It gives us unalloyed joy every mile of the way.

Do you ever see yourself settling back into a conventional life?

Since meeting 19 years ago, it’s always been about diversifying the way we live our life, constantly evolving it to invite fresh experiences. When it comes to Jase, he’s also partial to being in the right place with the right light. And I’m smitten with the big open spaces left in the world. Alas, we bathed in the America’s romantic, crazy good ambience for as long as we could. That is, before wearing ourselves down to the nub – it’s always good to leave the party while you’re still having a good time.

We’ve fallen for constantly changing horizons, whether we’re standing in a colony of Gentoo penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula, watching humpbacks bubble-net feed in Alaskan waters, or seeing Mount Fitz Roy fade in our rear-view mirrors. It’s an endless loop of sunrises and sunsets, of nights spent under skies ablaze with stars. Tension trickles from our bodies, leaving us as light as dandelion seeds. We thrive on adventure, endlessly rugged and a little dangerous, and share our successes and failures. We live at large, and the thrill of motorcycling together has made our lives tender and raw, tough but euphoric, and absolutely, inextricably linked. Right now, there is nothing more appealing than facilitating that way of living, to stay time-rich and thankful for the choices we make.

What impact did the motorcycle trip have on your nearest and dearest?

Although the bikes paved the way in opening up uncharted worlds for us, we still battled with traveller’s guilt along the way. Particularly as Jason’s parents are older than mine. I now know that my mum was convinced she’d never see me again – keeping company with dread for goodness knows how long. Not fully appreciating that however much you loved someone, it wasn’t always enough. Love alone couldn’t keep a daughter safe. That aside, everyone thinks they have the best and most supportive mum around, but actually, I do. So as to not cut ourselves off completely, we flew home twice on the trip at Christmas time. Our parents visited us in Alaska and Alberta, and I made another visit back for my mum’s 60th to keep the old gal happy. I surprised my sister for her 40th in Australia too.

Many folks will feel as though they have too many responsibilities that stop them from taking off like you have done, any advice you can offer if they want to live out their own adventure?

Many of us daydream about making a road trip across continents, although some might imagine they’re unable to overcome the real or perceived hurdles. So what does it take to actually do it? Anyone whose jigsaw pieces in their life can coalesce – and respectfully, not everybody’s can – simply a commitment to the decision to go is all it takes. Followed by doing whatever is necessary to make it happen. It sounds too easy, but in reality, it really is! The hardest part happens right at the very beginning when you have to release all the things that hold you from doing it in the first place.

Having reached a point in our 9-5 lives that no longer reaped enough intrinsic reward, the time came for a change, and we decided to make a significant one. Once we engaged in a ‘It’s time for a talk’ chat, we pinned down a departure date, or rather, the shipping agent sent us one, and the pieces began slotting into place. By “slotting into place,” I mean it still took a degree of work but at least with every task and penny under our belts, we were one step closer to leaving.

How can we follow your journey?

Brilliant – we’d love for you to follow us:

  • twowheelednomad.com
  • facebook.com/fourwheelednomad
  • instagram.com/fourwheelednomad
  • instagram.com/mrjasonspafford
  • vimeo.com/user11013433

BIG love to you all.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Our stats on the Americas trip: February 2014-August 2018

Days on the road: 1,628

Countries ridden through: From England, 21: France, Belgium, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, a day in Brazil, Antarctica, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, USA and Canada.
Miles covered: Over 80,000
Tyres worn through: Circa 15 sets on each bike. On my first Heidenau K60 Scout, I managed to wring 31,000 miles on the front that low and behold, still had another grand left on it.
Photographs taken: A plethora shall we say.
Visas required: For many countries, one per country – predominantly visa on arrival.
Mechanical issues: How long have you got? It’s still too soon to say “leaking fork seals” to Jason.
Months on a container ship: 1
Continents: 3.5
Countries: 21
Jason’s motorcycle: 2008 BMW F800GS
Lisa’s motorcycles: Formerly Pearl (2001 BMW F650GS – 49,585 miles) and Mr Jangles (Suzuki DR650)
Chain & sprockets: 8
Fuel pumps: 1
Water pumps: 4
Batteries: 2
Wheel rims: 2
Sets of wheel bearings: 4
Steering head bearings: 4
Cracked sub-frame: 1

Rear shocks: 2
Stators rewound/replaced: 4
Leaking fork seals: Too darn many!
Bikes conked out: 13
Marriage proposals: 1 (He said yes.)

7 comments on “1 Aug 2018 – 24 Feb 2019 – Looking back to look forward

  1. Hi Lise and Jason

    CONGRATULATIONS…what an amazing journey you have done. Very envious..we should have just followed you! We have loved following your Blog.

    I know yo would have met 100s of people but you may remember us . . . Ross and Shez Letten ..part of an 8 MGB Car convoy? travelling through South America, Central America and into the USA. From memory we met you when we were visiting Huaca Puciliano Inca in the middle of Lima in the Miraflores district,? OR in Mexico?
    5 of the Mgs continued to Vancouver and then 3 of us continued to Skagway. …
    And our journey continued but NOTHING in comparison s to your fantastic trip.

    Your exciting journey continues ‘4 Wheeled Nomad’ I thought you may be interested in knowing that 7 of those MGBs you encountered , including Ross in our BLue MGB in 2012 travelled from Cape to Cairo and Beyond…South Africa; Namibia; Zambia;Tanzania;Kenya; Ethiopia;Sudan; Egypt…and then ferry to Turkey and onto UK. The Chinese were building a few new roads , one known as the Road to Hell ( 250 kms Kenya to Ethiopian Border) so hopefully completed by the time you get there!
    ( If you would like to contact any of them for info do not hesitate to email me on shezletten@gmail.com)

    Happy travels and CONRATUALTIONS to you both. I hope you are going to write a book?
    Regards
    Shez and Ross Letten
    shezletten@gmail.com

    • Hi Shez,

      Yes of course we remember you. Thank you for such nice words. Congratulations to you too for completing your trip also and many thanks for the information.

      Jay

  2. Wow that’s telling it all !!! – I can almost see the couch and the clipboard from here 😀😀- you two are the gutsyiest (if this word exists) people I know – if not the OED entry should read – “slightly mad ,adventurous and way up there on the reckless scale – while remaining emotionally grounded and accessible” – we need to get together before the WR departs (if only to check you got a nodding toy on the dash !!😀😀) – love from Portsmouth

  3. I remember coming across your posts when you first started… and for one reason or another losing contact with it… great to see how it all transpired… congratulations.

    And now for the 4W Nomad… sounds epic… followed you on IG so I can stay inspired.

    Stay safe. And I wish you both every success in your continuing journeys.

    Have a great one

    Steve

  4. Thanks for taking the time to put that together Lisa. Was great to connect with so many similarities to our own experiences albeit over a shorter time scale than yours. Like you guys our next adventuring steps will be in a Hilux with a home built camper on the tray in our case. Happy travels and God Bless.

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