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Home   /   Solo Ride to Panama | 2021

Solo Ride to Panama | 2021


In 2016/2017 Audrey and I took our fourth leave of absence to ride around South America.  We planned to fly the bikes to Bogotá, Colombia then ride down to Ushuaia along the west coast, come back up the east coast, leap over the Darien Gap and then ride home through Central America and Mexico.  Unfortunately, a knee injury in Peru paused the trip for about three months.  We ended up only going as far north as Brasília, Brazil before shipping the motorcycles from São Paulo to Mexico City, missing Central America.  I knew I had to fill that gap.

Before Audrey passed away in November of 2020, she wrote a letter with some rambling thoughts.  The first thing she writes is, "My one and only love, Ekke. Your job is to travel out on your motorbike. What else?"  

In the summer of 2021, I flew to Germany as soon as fully vaccinated travellers were allowed to enter the country.  I had brought Audrey's F650GS home and my own 2007 R1200GS Adventure was still stored at Audrey's sister near Landshut.  I was welcomed with open arms by Helena and Willi.  After getting organized I rode to the Black Forest and met friends Peter and Inge.  We rode together towards the Netherlands where I then spent a week visiting relatives.  After attending Peter and Inge's club rally (I won the long-distance award!) I rode back south to meet Brian Dean, a friend from Calgary, who had rented a motorcycle for two weeks.  We spent a glorious couple of weeks riding the Alps.  After Brian headed home, I rode down to Slovenia and visited Ljubljana, a city Audrey and I had planned to visit on our Milan to Minsk ride in 2019 but a broken sidestand sidelined those plans.  After Ljubljana I rode to the MotoGP in Austria and then back to Helena and Willi's place to store the motorcycle and fly home.  It was a wonderful trip, in no small part because of the wonderful people I was with.

Riding the Stelvio Pass


I planned to ride to Panama after Audrey's Celebration of Life in mid-September.  This would be a true test; could I travel on my own, without my adventure travel partner?  I have been consumed with grief since Audrey's passing but this trip would be about more than managing the grief.  Audrey and I were perfect partners in travel, and I wasn't sure I could do a true adventure trip like this without her.  We were each good at different things with Audrey being good at the medical end of things, finding the perfect local restaurant, finely tuned Spidey senses for security issues and so much more.  Could I manage without those skills?  And would there be any joy in travelling alone or would it feel like "going through the motions?"  Well, my instructions from Audrey were crystal clear, it is my job to go out and ride my motorbike.  In 2016/2017 Audrey and I rode from Bogotá to Ushuaia and back up to São Paulo, Brazil.  We had intended to ride all the way back north through Central America but because I had broken my knee in Peru, we lost three months of travel time.  We ended up shipping the bikes from São Paulo to Mexico City and riding straight home.  So we missed riding through Central America.  My intention with this trip is to fill that gap on our wall map.

The gap between Colombia and Mexico City that needs to rectified


As I would be leaving the motorbike in Panama for an undetermined amount of time before returning to either continue to Colombia or ride back to Canada, I decided to take my old 1989 BMW R100GS.  The bike that I had ridden across Africa back in 2007/2008.  My new retirement gift bike, a 2021 R1250GSA, was worth too much to leave for a few months in Panama.  And the ideal bike for the trip, my 2007 R1200GSA, was still in Germany, ready for me to return next year.  It was a bit of work to prepare a 32 year old motorcycle that was already showing 260,000 kilometres on the clock.

Which bike to choose?


First up I needed to reinstall the aluminium luggage for some carrying capacity.  The Jesse luggage had been removed in order to use a high performance Siebenrock exhaust (matched with a high compression big bore kit) so now I needed to reinstall the stock exhaust system.  The rest was really just a thorough maintenance with oil changes, valve adjustment, new tires and so on.  I also installed the GPS I used for the South America trip as it still had Central America maps installed.

The bike is nicely set up for day tripping


Stock exhaust remounted, Jesse luggage racks installed, wheels off to get new tires mounted


Getting ready to check the valves


Mom supervises my work


Valves were all within spec, so button it back up


After the oil change, I overtightened this oil cooler banjo bolt.  Clarke gave me one from one of his bikes to use.  Nice!


Onno makes an unscheduled visit on his way back to San Diego


GPS with Central America maps installed


A turn signal wire had broken off inside the bulb holder so new turn signals installed


A ride out to Bragg Creek for a "smoke test".  There was no smoke, so ready to go!


As the land border to the United States was still closed, I needed to ship my motorcycle across and then fly to meet it.  After some research I settled on TFX International to ship my bike to Las Vegas.  The truck that showed up early Friday morning on October 8 was both beautiful and enormous.  I was Ian's first pick up and we backed the motorbike up the ramp and all the way to the front of the trailer.  He would pick up more vehicles and then swing south to drop them off.  The latest my bike would be in Las Vegas was October 17.  I booked my flight for October 16 and arranged with Vegas Motorcycle Storage ( to accept my bike and hold it until I arrived.

The predawn chill as we wait for the truck


What a rig!


Ian gets the transporter set up for my bike


Strapped down.  See you in Vegas!


I went to the Bowmont Travel Clinic to check for any medical issues or if I needed additional shots before travelling to Central America.  This is where I really missed one of Audrey's skills.  She had a good head for the medical issues and a good memory for what shots and medications we've had in the past.  I had a vague recollection of having taken a shingles vaccine and some rabies shots as well as that I had an adverse reaction to one of the malaria medications but not the details I needed for the appointment.  I also couldn't find my Yellow Fever vaccination certificate (though I found Audrey's).  Audrey and I had the same rounds of shots for the Africa, Asia, and South America trips so I knew that her vaccination certificate (and a printout of my Alberta Health records) should be sufficient to give the travel doctor my medical history.  When I described the psychotic episodes when taking the malaria medication in Africa the doctor knew which one it was and was able to prescribe the one that didn't have those side effects.  The doctor was thorough and professional but only after I returned home and found some more records did I confirm that I had the shingles vaccine and the full course for rabies.  I also found my Yellow Fever vaccination certificate in the bottom of the reinstalled motorcycle luggage.  It must have been left over from the Africa trip, along with copies of the Carnet de Passages.  The doctor recommended getting the flu shot before departure, so I arranged for that at the same time as picking up the malaria medication at the Co-op pharmacy.

On October 16 Debbie picked me up at Mom's house in Airdrie to give me a ride to the airport and soon enough I was jetting my way south to Las Vegas.  What adventures await?

Chapter 1: U.S.A.

And I am off on another adventure!

Well, not quite.  I had driven to Mom's place in Airdrie on Friday, October 15, and I woke up early on Saturday, the day of my flight to Las Vegas, thinking I forgot something.  I forgot to turn down the thermostat and put the water heater into vacation mode.  It was early enough (and before Mom woke up) that I jumped in the car and drove back to Redwood Meadows to take care of that.  Back in Airdrie, after breakfast, Debbie picked me up and drove me to the airport.  I received a text from Ernie at Las Vegas Motorcycle Storage with a picture of my bike.  It had arrived, safe and sound so I was looking forward to getting to Las Vegas early enough to pick it up that afternoon.  The Rio hotel gave me a lovely corner room with floor to ceiling windows on two sides and after I had settled in, I grabbed my helmet and walked the couple of kilometres to the storage facility.  Being a Saturday the industrial area was pretty quiet and despite not being a terribly pedestrian friendly environment it was nice to go for a walk in the sunshine after the flight.  Ernie met me there and I rolled the bike out.  The old beast roared into life on the first push of the button, albeit with some smoke due to being parked on the sidestand.  Panama here we come!

Ernie sent me this photo: my bike has arrived in Las Vegas!


The bike fired right up but with a bit of smoke (I said, that'll keep the mosquitos down and Ernie replied, we don't have any mosquitos)


Bring the bike back to the Rio and pack it


A nice spacious room at the Rio


Since I wasn't sure that I would be able to pick up the bike on Saturday I had booked two nights at the Rio and so I had a free day on Sunday.  I used the time to fine tune the packing and then took a walk down the Strip in the late afternoon.  I ended up at the Venetian at supper time and had a wonderful pasta dinner in the main square while an opera singer/pianist played on stage.  Lovely but, let's be honest, eating dinner by myself in a fancy restaurant felt a little weird.  After dark the Strip really comes to life and it was fun strolling back to the Rio, catching the dancing fountains at the Bellagio (where we had celebrated Audrey's birthday in 2019) on the way.

The fountains at the Bellagio (click on the photo to see the YouTube video and "back" on your browser to return here.)


I could hear the wind howling outside when I got up on Monday morning and it was indeed quite breezy when I got out onto Interstate 15, heading south.  I had planned to get some gas soon after departing and it was a relief to pull into the "World's Largest Chevron" station just 45 kilometres down the road.  I removed the peak from my helmet to ease the strain on my neck, but it was still hard work just riding at the speed limit (113 km/h).  At a rest area I took a break and thought I would check for any messages and Facebook.  Facebook greeted me with a memory from last year, October 18, 2020, the day in 1988 that Audrey and I were engaged.  And in 2020, a time when Audrey was declining rapidly with only a week left before she would be transferred to a hospice.  I was completely and totally overcome with grief and sat at a picnic table weeping, unable to go on.  When I shared the post on Facebook and commented that I didn't think I could go on.  I received an outpouring of support.  Thank you!  Eventually I was able to get back on the bike and slog another 400 kilometres in the wind to Bakersfield before turning north.  About 100 kilometres before King City the wind finally eased up, but the last half hour of riding was in the dark.  The headlight on the R100GS is almost as good as the wind protection so it was still a bit of a challenging ride. I was physically and emotionally drained, but I was on the road, travelling at last.

Good morning Las Vegas!


A wind advisory in effect


And I am off! (click on the photo to watch the YouTube video)


The World's Largest Chevron station provided a brief respite from the wind


I saw these mysterious things from the plane as we were landing in Las Vegas


Riding right by the mystery.  They are solar collectors.


Riding across the desert


Great, more wind warnings


As the wind eased up and I was riding into the afternoon sun it was better with the peak back on


Riding north in the Salinas River valley lots of fresh vegetables are being picked


A truck load of lettuce


Nice parking spot at the hotel in King City


On Tuesday I had an appointment in Scotts Valley, just south of San Francisco to pick up a new rear shock.  The Ohlins was still OK but it had been a while since it had been serviced and when I had called The Beemershop before departure to see about a rebuild they indicated that they were taking appointments well into the future and it would take a few days to actually get it rebuilt.  So, I bought a new shock instead.  On Tuesday, October 19th, I rode up to their shop from King City.  The shock is pretty easy to replace on the R100GS but I still took a couple of hours so that meant I wasn't able to return to King City via the wonderful coast road, Highway 1.  I took the road between the 101 (which I had come up) and Highway 1, the Carmel Valley Road.  It was fantastic with very little traffic and lots of fun curves to give the new shock a workout.  Back in King City I stopped at a Starbucks for a bite to eat and read a motorcycle magazine rather than returning to the motel right away.  When I rode to the motel it was after dark and I was surprised to discover that the headlight wasn't working.  But it did work when I held down the high beam flasher.  Weird.  

Installing the new shock absorber in the Beemershop parking lot


A glimpse of the ocean coming out of Santa Cruz


The Carmel Valley road is lots of fun


Lovely views and no traffic made for a nice afternoon ride


On Wednesday I headed over to a nearby AutoZone to pick up a new headlight bulb.  When that didn't fix the problem I tried a few other things, none of which worked, so I made a mental note to; a) avoid riding at night and b) assume that oncoming traffic wouldn't see me.  By this time, I thought I had better get going if I was going to make it to Ventura before dark.  The hotel owner had suggested a nice road down to the coast from King City, but she hadn't mentioned that it goes through an army base, so I was a little concerned when I saw the visitor control center for Fort Hunter Liggett.  There was no one in the booth and a sign indicated that through traffic was OK so I proceeded with a healthy dose of caution.  What a wonderful road and no traffic at all.  None.  That was perhaps a clue that this wasn't going to end well.  Just a few kilometres from the coast I came upon a barricade.  The road was closed due to a recent fire in the Los Padres National Forest.  I had to backtrack through Fort Hunter Liggett and most of the way to King City before taking the four lane Highway 101 down to Ventura.  Too bad, as I had been really looking forward to the ride along the coast.  I had noticed a clunk coming through the handlebars the day before and it was a bit worse now.  Upon investigation it appeared that the steering head nut was a bit loose.  This had happened before, in Sudan in 2007, where I ended up losing the nut and riding 1,000 km without it, so I knew I should tighten it and perhaps get the steering head bearings checked over for damage.  Over a delicious roadside taco lunch, I found a shop in San Diego that works on the old "airhead" BMWs and contacted them to arrange a time for repair.  I finally made it to Ventura just before 6:00 PM, as the shadows were getting long, after encountering serious traffic at Santa Barbara where splitting lanes was especially useful.  The parkade under the Amanzi Hotel wasn't secure (that is, it was open to the outside) but at least it was covered.  I took my luggage upstairs then went for a walk, looking for a bite to eat, ending up with a convenience store sandwich.  I hoped to slow down a bit and have fewer challenges as this kind of travelling was getting tiring.

Tried replacing the headlight bulb but the light still didn't work


Entering Fort Hunter Liggett


No traffic at all and a lovely ride to the coast


I thought these turkeys were safe but realized that they hadn't had American Thanksgiving yet...


Dodging enormous spiders was part of the fun of the road


Well, that's the end of the fun.  Road closed because of a recent fire in Big Sur.


Road closed just past Nacimiento Campground, I could almost smell the ocean


Well, I guess there was this Road Closed sign in Fort Hunter Liggett


Clunk from the front end traced to a loose steering head nut


Doing research on BMW mechanics over lunch


Well, at least I am back by the ocean


Turning off before the Space Force Base


Lovely ocean views


Robbed!  Yep, I came downstairs, and I had forgotten to lock the saddlebags last night.  The lids were open and everything that I hadn't taken upstairs was gone.  So that was all the bike-specific things like rain gear, tools, spares, warm clothes, first aid kit, and extra gloves.  My frustration was compounded by the fact that Audrey was always much more security conscious than I was.  I wouldn't have left the saddlebags unlocked if she would have been here.  I reported the incident to the hotel who said they could give the security camera footage to the police, but I would need to file a police report first.  That made sense since otherwise I am sure I would have gone looking for the miscreant to extract a bit of vigilante justice.  Instead, I walked in a spiral outward from the hotel just looking for my stuff.  No luck.  I had an appointment with BMS, Best Motorcycle Seats (formerly Bill Mayer Saddles before Rocky passed away) to get my custom seat adjusted so headed over there and spent the morning with Adrian getting the seat so that it fit me better.  Their saddles are absolutely amazing, and I would recommend them to anyone, check them out at  I thought I would have a look at replacing some of my stolen gear at Ventura BMW but they had no rain gear (what, it never rains in California?) and they couldn't sell the 2-in-1 gloves because they use kangaroo leather. Apparently, it isn't possible to sell kangaroo leather in California.  Who knew?  I also asked if they could tighten up the steering head nut but their mechanics won't touch an old motorcycle for fear of breaking something and they didn't have the tool available for sale either.  I took the long way back to the hotel, through the mountains and by the ocean and then walked around again to see if the thief had discarded any of the useless items.  Like who else would need a spare clutch cable for a 30 year old motorcycle?  I ended up at Finney's, a really lively pub on a pedestrianized street in downtown Ventura.  It was way more fun eating at a lively spot by myself than in a fancy restaurant.  Plus I had a Moroccan salad, easily the healthiest thing I had eaten on the trip.

Adrian of Legendary BMS goes to work adjusting the motorcycle saddle


Another happy customer


Tightening up the steering head nut in a Home Depot parking lot


The Ventura Pier was built in 1872


On Friday, October 22, I packed up my (more) meager belongings and hit the road south.  First a stop at Legendary Best Motorcycle Saddles to make another adjustment to the seat and then to the newly opened Rivian Hub in Venice.  Rivian had just started delivering their new electric pickup truck to customers and only a few days earlier had opened up the Hub.  The truck was great to see in person, but I was even more impressed by the attitude of the people I met.  Everyone there was really into adventure travel, it wasn't simply a company slogan.  Some of the staff even insisted on coming out front to have a look at my bike and talk about the adventure I was on.  A little further down the road I stopped off at SpaceX headquarters to check out the Falcon 9 booster on display.  That made my bike look pretty tiny!  A Travelodge was my home for the evening, but I was a bit concerned about the Harley Davidson dealer across the street that seemed to be setting up for a party.  After finding a nice hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant (yummy lamb tikka masala) I went back to the Travelodge to find the HD party in full swing.  I didn't mind the party too much but after the party the legions of open pipe Harleys roaring away was actually deafening.

Arrived at the Rivian Hub


The Rivian R1T is a cool, adventure-ready truck


The blue is sharp


Check out the slide-out camp kitchen available as an option


Yes, my BMW R100GS is in the photo with the Falcon 9 booster


After a Saturday morning breakfast at Starbucks I continued south.  I stopped off at Long Beach BMW and found new rain gear in my size (!) and new Airflow gloves.  This thievery thing was getting to be expensive.  Taking Interstates 405 and 5 south I was struck by the volume of traffic going in both directions.  While splitting lanes meant I could make better time than those stuck in their cars it was still a bit of a slog.  At a rest stop I struck up a conversation with a couple of people that had pulled up beside me and were checking out the stickers on the bike.  When I told them I was on my way to Panama and that this was the first adventure ride without Audrey they asked if I would mind if they blessed me.  Umm, OK.  Blessing completed I rejoined the fray and split lanes most of the way to San Diego.  I arrived at the harbour at 2:30 and texted Onno that I had arrived.  This was the first time I had seen his boat and Lost Pearl did not disappoint. What a wonderful boat, nicely laid out and it was obvious Onno had done so much work on it.  The next morning we went for a cruise around the harbour to help break in the new motor.  In the afternoon we hopped on a couple of eScooters and zipped over to a theatre to check out Dune.  Great show but the theatre had the sound cranked up to 11.  My ears were still ringing that evening, as if I had come from a rock concert.  Isn't there a saying, "The music isn't too loud, you're too old!"  After running a few errands on Monday morning, Onno and I had a delicious bon voyage lunch (for both of our voyages) at Supannee House of Thai and then I set off in a bit of a drizzle.  I had booked a hotel on the other side of San Diego to be close to the motorcycle shop that would take a look at the steering head nut the next day.

Saturday traffic between Los Angeles and San Diego is pretty heavy (huzzah for lane splitting!)


I get blessed at a roadside rest area


Arrived at Shelter Island pier, looking for the Lost Pearl


Meeting up with Onno


Arriving at the Lost Pearl (click on the photo to watch the YouTube video)


The captain at the helm


A lovely evening on the boat with a view of San Diego (also the iPhone takes pretty amazing photos)


Packed up and taking the tender back to shore and my motorcycle


A light drizzle for my departure from Shelter Island


The Carlton Oaks Lodge was a golf course hotel with direct access to the golf course which would probably be good for a golf vacation, but it was in the middle of a residential neighbourhood far from any other services.  So Tuesday was a day of walking.  First a few kilometres to a café for breakfast then back a couple of kilometres from DCMW Motorcycle Service of San Diego after dropping off the bike with Dave.  He thought the bike would be ready in the afternoon if he didn't need to order any parts.  With a little time on my hands, I walked back and forth to a laundromat and Kaffeemeister for afternoon tea when I got the call that my bike was ready.  Finally, after 22.7 kilometres of walking (according to my iPhone app) I had my wheels back.  Using my wheels, I popped over to an O'Reilly's auto parts store to replace my stolen air pump and flat fix kit and finally to dinner at an Olive Garden.  On Wednesday I did some prep work for Thursday's planned border crossing and then moved to another hotel where I got the required documents printed out.  I swung by San Diego BMW to see if they had a clutch cable to replace my stolen cable, but I had no luck with that.  Next door to the Best Western was Anthony's Fish Grotto, a famous local establishment where I enjoyed the salmon and penne pasta while sitting beside a duck pond.  Quite lovely but as always at a fancy restaurant, a bit weird by myself.  I woke up on Thursday in anticipation of a border crossing.  Part of the thrill of travelling is the unknown of a border crossing and today would be no different.  Well, it turned out to be a bit different.  I packed up the bike and rolled it off the centre stand and thought it felt weird.  Sure enough, an enormous nail had managed to find its way into the rear tire.  The tire was relatively new, so I thought about repairing it with my newly acquired tools.  Figuring that no matter how well I repaired the tire it still wouldn't be as good as a new tire, I checked with the dealer to see if they had the same tire in stock.  They were able to get a tire and install it that afternoon.  Perfect.  Rather than taking an Uber over with the wheel to get repaired I used the opportunity to practice my puncture repair skills (and brand-new pump and tire plugs) and then rode over.  I also extended my stay at the Best Western an extra night.  Friday morning, I took a nice mountain road to the Tecate border crossing figuring it would be a little less stressful than at the busy Tijuana crossing.  It was a lovely ride except for the long wait in the heat at a construction zone and I hoped that the border crossing wouldn't take too long, or I might cook in all my gear.  What further adventures awaited?  How reliable would the bike be, or would that also form part of the adventure?  Into Mexico!

DCMW Motorcycle Service of San Diego has a few older bikes out front.  My bike will be in good hands.


A flat tire just as I am leaving San Diego for Mexico


My flat tire repair kit is only a couple of days old and still in the original packaging


Love this sticky note in a Starbucks (despite the spelling error)


The border with Mexico


Map of the U.S. portion of the ride