Tip2Top, riding a motorbike from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska, began in February 2020 . . . and was quickly overtaken by the Covid pandemic. By April 3rd, having ridden my BMW R1200 GS Adventure south, from Buenos Aires in Argentina to Punta Arenas in Chile, I had to admit defeat and, in the face of curfews and closed borders, retreat back to Ireland, my bike safe in a warehouse, and wait out the storm. Ridiculous as it appears now, at the time it seemed the postponement might be for just a few months. It turned out to be almost three years. But, unlike many people across the world, I dodged the worst of the virus and no one in my family died because of it or became seriously ill.
Now, in November 2022, I’m returning to the extreme south, the bottom tip of South America, to the Chilean province of Magallanes y Antarctica. I plan to go further south again, before turning around and heading north to Alaska, the very top of North America. On the way, I aim to pass through the south Patagonia icefield and into Chile’s lake region, up the Central Valley, including the wine-producing area and capital Santiago, and into the Atacama Desert. From there, I hope to enter Bolivia and Peru, and then Ecuador, Colombia and (maybe) Venezuela. Like many bikers before me, I’m not sure how I’ll get from Colombia to Panama — around the so-called Darien Gap — and into Central America. But like them, I’ll figure it out and get there, somehow. I hope to ride the length of the Mexico/US border, from Texas to California, and from there, head north again, into Canada and the Yukon, and to Prudhoe Bay in the far north of Alaska.
I’ll be camping or staying in hostels and I plan to undertake several longish hikes, and climb a few mountains. I retired from formal employment in April 2019, aged 66. At that time, I felt super fit. That Spring, I walked the 800km long Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain, hiked parts of New Hampshire in the US, and climbed several mountains in Switzerland, each about 4,000m high.
Now I’m in my 70th year, not so fit as I was then and I am also three teeth fewer! So decrepitude is advancing and I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can pick it up again — metaphorically and literally: can I pick up the trail, that faded shadow of a retirement adventure? Can I pick up the bike if it falls over? I could three years ago. . .
I don’t know how long this journey will take — six months, perhaps? But it’s not a race. It’s an opportunity to explore places, magical, wonderful and extraordinarily out-of-the-way parts of our bruised world, to meet people and see what’s going on across a great swathe of the planet. I’m doing this on my own so that I concentrate on where I am and the people that I meet, rather than interacting with a biking buddy. It may seem like a contradiction, but while I am gregarious and love people, I also yearn for solitude and the peace-of-mind it can bring.
I’ll be writing about it all here, and each Saturday in The Irish Times — see irishtimes.com — and in a book to be published in 2024 by Gill Books. The Blog section here contains dispatches from my Covid-aborted initial journey, and some of my earlier career reporting can be read in Gallery, under Previous Work.