America’s Independence Day has a special significance for California-based motorcyclist Allan Karl. In 2005, it marked the start of his solo journey around the world, through Northern, Central and South America, then across Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The trip would realize his life-long dream to see the world, as well as combine his passions for motorcycling, writing and photography.
Just six months into his global odyssey, however, the dream came to a crashing halt. While riding on a muddy dirt road 15,000-ft high in the Bolivian Andes, Allan came off his BMW F650GS Dakar motorcycle. “It had rained for several days, my bike slipped out from under me and my panniers fell on top of my leg and broke it,” he says. Eighteen hours and three flights later, he found himself back in California facing a seven-month recovery.
Continuing with his journey was never in doubt, however. Before his departure in 2005, Allan had spent two years organizing the trip. He had resigned from the successful marketing company he’d founded and his marriage had later ended in divorce. He’d sold almost everything he owned to fulfill his personal ambition of traveling around the world. Nevertheless, getting back on the road wasn’t easy.
“I was terrified about going back,” admits Allan. “On day one, I wanted a warm-up ride and decided to stick to the good road from Sucre to Santa Cruz. For the first hour-and-a-half, it was a beautiful road, but then it became sand, mud, rocks and gravel, and I came to a river with no bridge. My immediate reaction was, ‘I can’t do it’.”
Realizing he had to confront his fears a little sooner than he had hoped, Allan got across the river and went on to complete his 62,000 mile (100,000 km) ride in 847 days. “Some people might have quit on something like this after breaking their leg, but it just goes to show that you have to overcome personal as well as physical obstacles along the way,” he says.
Among his other challenges was the language barrier he encountered in some of the 35 countries he visited. “When you’re traveling alone, it’s important to interact with local people, and I managed to learn Spanish very well in South America,” he explains. “But then I got to Brazil, where they speak Portuguese, and it was like I had to press ‘reset’. I felt like a kid, starting to learn all over again. Communicating was also difficult in Africa, in the more remote areas.”
Acquiring the necessary visas at some of the 55 borders he needed to cross occasionally proved problematic too. It took him 24 hours to persuade the Syrian officials to grant him a visa. As he was finally about to leave, he was asked to drink tea and share his stories with the director of immigration. At the Zambia/Tanzania border, the officials wouldn’t accept his hundred dollar bill as payment for a visa, because they thought it was fake. “The US treasury changed the design slightly in 2001, but there was still some money circulating from 1999 — this is what I had drawn out when I left the US. So I was stuck.”
Luckily, a Canadian backpacker arrived on a tourist bus and spotted his BMW motorcycle. “He had just finished reading Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor’s book, Long Way Down, and recognized the bike, so we started talking. He had a new hundred dollar bill so we exchanged notes, and the book, and I got my visa,” says Allan. “It just goes to show that you might set out on your own, but you’re never really alone. There’s always someone to connect with.”
This is a common theme that runs through Allan’s experiences, which he shares in his multimedia presentation entitled, ‘The beginning at the end of the road’. Since July 2009, he has visited several BMW dealerships in the US to entertain and inspire fellow motorcyclists. The first of his presentations, held at his local San Diego BMW dealership, included a buffet of dishes from some of the countries he visited. The recipes will be published in one of two books about his journey, Tasting Adventure, which is due to be published next year. His second book, From the boardroom to Bolivia and Beyond, will be available shortly after.
“I also speak at corporate, non-motorcycle events,” adds Allan, citing Google, Apple and financial firms as some of his recent hosts. “These talks are more inspirational and it helps to widen the audience, which is also good for BMW.” He has six presentations coming up in October in the Northeast US, and another six scheduled for early 2011 in the Pacific Northwest US.
A motorcyclist for most of his life, Allan said there was no hesitation when it came to choosing the bike that would take him around the world. “It had to be a BMW, the brand speaks for itself,” he says. “I needed something low maintenance and an enduro-style bike, capable of carrying me, my clothes and handle the extra weight of a professional camera, computer and extra hard drives.” He decided against the larger BMW R1200GS Adventure model, opting instead for the lightweight F650GS Dakar, with its long suspension travel for rougher roads and a large front wheel to handle potholes.
To find out more about Allan Karl’s adventure, his presentations and forthcoming books, visit www.worldrider.com.