Durango Colorado, United States 19 May 07
Odometer 49,024 m 78,896 km

I set out from Alaska two years ago on a mission. Come hell or high water I would cross the Arctic Circle, Tropic of Cancer, Equator and Tropic of Capricorn, en route to the southern tip of Argentina--then return. I would do it on a motorcycle. And I would do it alone.

During the last four months of the odyssey, I pushed ever northward along the Brazilian coast until reaching my final destination: the Amazon. Images of impenetrable rainforests, exotic natives, insufferable heat, tropical riverboats, clouds of mosquitoes and flesh-eating piranha danced through my head. But the grungy port town of Belem, where the world’s largest river disgorges its storied waters into the sea, had something more to offer a road-weary traveler: an international airport.

From here it was possible to fly to Manaus and on to Florida. From Florida it’s only a four-days’ ride west to Colorado. And in Colorado lies my hometown: Durango. I realized that I was finally within striking distance of completing the circle and at last achieving my goal.
Land's end: Jeremiah checks the map along the banks of the Amazon River in Belem, Brazil.
As I walked along the busy docks of the Amazon, the smell of freshly caught fish heavy in the air, the endgame came into focus. I was physically tired, yes, but more significantly, I suffered from decision-fatigue. Alone, and always on the move, there’s no one else to share the burden of deciding to turn left or right, rest or go on, camp or motel, chicken or beef. This may sound silly, but commit to this long enough and your brain needs a break.

Too, after two years of being bombarded with daily surprises, I came to crave something or someone I already knew. I hungered to sit and talk with my wife or an old friend, eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, or simply wear a clean pair of blue jeans. When little things like this become monumentally important--you know you’ve been out too long.

I commenced crating El Viento for the long flight to Miami with a newfound sense of urgency. The last of my gear was packed up. All of the customs documents were in order. All that was left was to nail the lid shut and depart for the passenger terminal.
Sooner than expected, I encountered a group of American tourists returning from an organized tour of the jungle. They were angry. They were forced to wait a couple of hours while the less-than-perfect Brazilian security apparatus searched their bags. Never mind that this time-consuming procedure was done at the behest of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; they were inconvenienced and it showed.

I too was anxious to depart, but was embarrassed by the petulant behavior of my countrymen. Latin America teaches you to slow down, to accept what may and relax. Apparently, they skipped that lesson.

When it came my turn to hand over my passport, I looked the immigration officer in the eye, then shook and held his hand while calmly stating, “I’m an American, with the great privilege of visiting your beautiful country. Thank you for your patience with my friends, here.”

As relief overcame his harried face, he grinned and gently replied in Portuguese, “Please come back and see us.”

I assured him that indeed I would, then stepped off of South American soil and boarded a plane to the United States.
In over two years time I rode my motorcycle nearly 50,000 miles across the Americas. In a single day I flew back. Like a mischievous bear shot with a tranquilizer dart and relocated to parts unknown, I awoke in a strange new world.

“Did you ride here all the way from Colorado,” a curious Floridian inquired after spying my license plate?

Without revealing the extent of my detour, I slowly nodded yes.

“Man, that’s a long trip,” the fellow-biker declared. “Where’re you headed now?”

I paused to consider my answer, then softly uttered the one word I hadn’t heard in a very long time: “home.”

The long flight and subsequent ride to Colorado afforded me some much-needed time to decompress and reflect. I knew the transition back into normal life wouldn’t be easy. There was culture shock to overcome, stale relationships to renew, and perhaps most vexing, coming to terms with the fact that the person returning was not the person who left.

As the southern states rolled by one by one, I began to wonder if anything would ever seem the same to me again.

It takes time to truly alter your perspective. A week or two on vacation might give you a much-needed break from the daily grind at work, but to fundamentally change the way you
think takes longer. A trip of this magnitude allows you enough time to think outside your normal routine. It helps you introspect. It forces you to face your fears, examine why you think what you think and why you feel how you feel. It requires you to buck up and do better. And it makes you take stock.

Very few people will ever have the opportunity to cross continents as I have, and I am eternally grateful for it. My journey heightened my appreciation for everything I have and helped me empathize with a world full of have-nots. It humbled me through the kindness of strangers and heartened me through the common pulse of humanity. It made me question the unfair distribution of wealth and bear witness to catastrophic environmental decay. In all, I’m happy to have made it from end to end, none the worse for wear.

From Alaska to Argentina there is beauty and wonder to behold. And although I can honestly attest that I’ve never been someplace I didn’t like, no place is perfect. We can all do better--as individuals, as citizens of our own countries, and as members of the global community. Every night I ask myself what I can do to make this world more equitable and sustainable. Every day I work on the answer.

The Journey So Far will continue. This homecoming is but one important waypoint on a long and winding road. I’ll rest, regroup, and return.

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