BENEFITING: TASK FORCE DAGGER FOUNDATION
Aaron and I are making another attempt at Tierra del Fuego. For those who are just joining us, my brother, Aaron, and I started a journey in 2012. He’d been medically separated from the army and was going through college. I was teaching English in Vietnam. He called me up and invited me on a transcontinental motorcycle trip; from our home near Chicago to Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of South America. Aaron loves motorcycles. I love traveling and figured I’d learn to love motorcycles at some point during the journey. We left home and went north to the UP of Michigan to test our bikes. Aaron was riding a Suzuki DR650 and I had a Kawasaki KLR650. From there we went south. We visited friends and family and stopped at points of interest on our way out of the country. We crossed into Mexico by way of the Baja and after some hard desert riding, the KLR seized and led to three weeks of pleading with mechanics to fix things. Through the help of friends we’d made along the way, we were able to keep moving. We swam with sea lions, visited Tenochtitlan, and jumped off waterfalls. In Guatemala, we volunteered at an orphanage where Aaron was hit by a truck. After he recuperated, we rode all the way down to Panama, stopping to investigate anything that looked interesting. As time went on, the stops became less frequent, because we had a deadline and we were still looking to reach our destination. It took surprisingly little time to find a boat that would let us strap the bikes to them to cross the Darien Gap separating Panama from Colombia. That treacherous ride had us, at some points, clinging to our 400+ pound motorcycles in small, 8-foot fiberglass rowboats called ‘launchas’. It wasn’t an easy trip, but we did successfully arrive in South America. About four days later, as we were heading south, racing through the night to reach the border of Ecuador before it closed, I crashed and my ankle broke into a lot of small pieces. The trip, as we knew it, ended there, just north of Pasto, Colombia. But the mission endured. We became good friends with my Colombian surgeon and his family. They took care of our motorcycles when we left Colombia and went back to our other lives. I eventually healed and went back to teach overseas and Aaron continued with school. About a year and a half after the accident, we returned. This time, we flew down to Colombia with our parents so that they could meet all the great and generous people we’d met as a result of the crash. Aaron and I got the motorcycles up and running for the journey and we parted ways with our parents and the second family we’d made in Colombia. We were still going to make it to Tierra del Fuego. This leg of the journey lasted about four months. We made it through Ecuador and into Peru. We got connected to a charity that works in Iquitos, Peru, which is up in the Peruvian Amazon. In order to get there, we had to put our motorcycles back on little motor boats and ride up the river for 16 hours. We volunteered there for about a month. Aaron and I rode some of the worst, middle of nowhere highways either of us have ever experienced after we came back down the river. The motorcycles took a beating and by the time we got to Lima, we were experiencing a lot of problems. Most of the problems were due to an ongoing oil issue with the KLR. We met a great mechanic in Lima who did his best to send us off with the issue finally fixed, but we found ourselves at Lake Titicaca, thinking about crossing into Bolivia, and realizing, with the recurring mechanical problems, we didn’t want to make the attempt with the bikes as they were. It was also winter in Chile and we were wary of riding into the snow. We turned around and the DR and KLR have been with our friend in Lima since then. Through these two parts of the journey we’ve experienced some of the most giving and friendly people and spent nights camping alone on top of some of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. We’ve joined the locals in celebrating festivals and climbed volcanoes with friends. We’ve played with monkeys and sloths and touched some of the ancient structures we’d always seen in our history books. The things that go wrong inevitably lead to opportunities for the most unexpected and rewarding incidents. We chose motorcycles that can ride of the beaten path so that we could wander off and encounter these places in our own way. Through it all, I can personally say that I’ve gone through more pain than I’d ever thought I could experience through this ride, but I’m happily looking forward to this last stretch and reaching the end of this road. Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina are all that’s left. Even more exciting this time around, is the opportunity to join with Veteran Voyage 360. It has always been a goal of ours to have a positive impact on the world as we travel. In the past, it has taken the form of volunteering or fundraising for worthy causes. Veteran Voyage 360 has connected us to Task Force Dagger. This is TFD’s mission statement: Task Force Dagger Foundation provides assistance to wounded, ill, or injured US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) members and their families. We respond to urgent needs, conduct Recreational Therapy Adaptive Events, and provide next-generation health solutions for issues facing our service members. We are a rally point to combat Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS), and environmental exposures. Our cohesive programs enable families to seize the moment and live life. This is near and dear to our hearts because Aaron was a member of the 1st of the 75th Ranger Battalion. Later, after being medically separated, he personally experienced and witnessed the unique struggles that his special operations brothers dealt with in navigating their current health care options. We believe that those who dedicate their lives and commit themselves to the highest standards deserve the same when they return home. We’ll be flying back to be reunited with our enduros early February. From there, we hope you join us and keep up with our ongoing adventure.