Journey to the End of the Earth
December 25th, 2016 by Kathy Ursprung

Ron Carpenter changes a tire on his Austrian-made KTM 690 Enduro motorcycle. It has a custom gas tank, special seat, LED headlight and long-range tires

Ron Carpenter of The Dalles, Oregon, wasn’t always certain where the next road would lead, but he learned uncertain roads often yield unexpected rewards.

That’s the way it is with adventures of a lifetime.

Ron’s adventure was a 17,000-mile motorcycle journey through Central and South America he began a year ago this month.

The retired Air Force flight engineer, Job Corps instructor and former substitute teacher says he had always dreamed of taking a big trip by motorcycle.

On January 9, 2016, Ron set out from Yuma, Arizona, on a three-month ride. His goal was to reach the southern tip of South America.

Ron says it all began about two and a half years ago when he was visited by friends taking a motorcycle trip around the world.

But riding around the world would take time he did not have. With his parents still alive and his wife, Diane, at home, he did not want to be gone that long.

But traveling through South America was within reach. At 67, he needed to pursue his dream or give it up.

Ron joined forces with two veteran riders for the trip: Lynne Clark, 72, and Tom Jackson, 65, both well known in the motorcycle community.

Ron met Lynne in Yuma and they drove down the Baja Peninsula, camping along the way. Tom joined the group in La Paz, Mexico, near the southern tip of Baja, and the trio ferried to the mainland for the rest of their journey.

“We were on the west coast of Mexico mostly,” Ron says while tracing the journey with his fingertip on a globe through Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama in Central America. In South America, they traveled the west coast through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina.
The border crossings in Central America were particularly difficult.

“They were very long and confusing,” Ron says. “People are trying to steal from you, cheat you and sell you stuff. People were walking around with shotguns all over the place—guards, mostly.”

South of the Panama Canal, the ride was interrupted by the Darien Gap, the only break in the 30,000-mile Pan-American Highway system.

Ron and his companions flew to Bogota before continuing their trip. Time was a critical factor if they were to reach Ushuaia at the southern end of the continent before winter weather set in.

Meanwhile, at home, Diane followed Ron’s travels through his GPS locator. The two communicated via Skype and email when Ron was able to find an Internet connection.

As Ron and Tom got closer to Ushuaia, they met people of all nationalities driving, bicycling and hiking with the same destination in mind and willing to help one another along the way. Some, however, would not complete the trip.

“This is where things got real interesting,” Ron says.

Outside Ushuaia, a group of protestors seeking higher wages blocked the road with shipping containers. It looked like the end of the road, but Ron was undeterred.

“There was a woman there that I talked to—one of the protestors—and I told her it was raining, cold and wet, and I really wanted to get to a hotel,” he says. “She spoke a bit of English and got a young man to lead us on a secret way up into the hills.”

Tom chose not to continue, but Ron pressed on.

“I’d traveled for months, 17,000 miles,” he says. “I was going to make my destination.”

He stayed for two days in Ushuaia, celebrating with others who had made the journey.

The last leg of Ron’s journey was made solo, from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires, a city of 22 million people. Ron says he had never been anywhere so massive.

After months focused on the road ahead and reaching his next destination, Ron enjoyed a final celebration.

“There were a lot of little shops, a zillion places to eat and have coffee,” he says. “We were going to fly out of there the next day, so we thought, ‘Finally, we can let our guard down.’”