A Canadian Adventure in Central America
“Motorcycle Therapy is cheaper than analysis and much more fun”
In October 2003, Jeremy Kroeker had a broken heart and itchy feet. He set forth from Canmore, Alberta, on a used motorcycle, headed for South America…or Central America, however far his money would take him. Motorcycle Therapy: A Canadian Adventure in Central America describes both his travels and his journey to personal discovery.
Kroeker has a gift for ruthless self-mockery, and his descriptions of his own (frequent) ineptitude make this a light-hearted read. The book also conveys plenty of those moments of sheer brilliance that occur only when you’re far from home and open to wonder.
Even readers with no interest in motorcycles will enjoy Kroeker’s story as he and his friend Trevor Martens experience the joys — and troubles — of life on the roads of Mexico and Central America. These two very different men manage to hold their friendship together (barely) as they travel further south, and Kroeker’s musings on the nature of friendship and his own personal character flaws are a major element in the book.
Born in the heart of Mennonite Manitoba and raised in Saskatchewan, Kroeker headed for the hills at an early age and has followed a wildly erratic career path: international truck driver, wildlife technician, initial attack wildfire rappel crew member, climbing bum, and now motorbike-riding travel writer.
“With humour that’s reminiscent of Bill Bryson’s best, Kroeker discovers that you can’t leave yourself behind – but it’s sure fun trying.”
– Chris Scott, author of Adventure Motorcycling Handbook
Excerpt from Motorcycle Therapy
In essence, this is the story of friendship, discovery and reconciliation. Well, that, and what follows when a depressed man spends an entire winter watching the National Geographic Channel.
Looking back, I can’t tell you how I envisioned that a motorcycle trip from Canmore, Alberta (an hour west of Calgary) to Central or South America would solve my problems. Maybe I hoped to break the inertia my life had developed, to let adventure breathe vitality into a heart that no longer really cared. Maybe that’s what I wanted. But that’s not what I got. I got something far more valuable… and unsettling. Of course, I didn’t know any of this at the time. I only knew one thing.
I needed to ride.
Like every manly adventure (especially ones involving motorcycles, poor planning and high risk of personal injury), this one started with a girl. To thinly disguise her identity, I’ve changed her name to Susan. I wanted to call her Sauron, after the dark lord from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but some mutual friends suggested that might be overstating things a bit.
Susan spent an entire year trying to coax me into saying “I love you” for the first time in my life, and I finally did. I meant it, too. She never actually shouted “SUCKER!” at me as she drove off with another guy shortly thereafter, but it was implied.
If the best year of my life began when I kissed her for the first time, then the worst year of my life began when I kissed her goodbye.
But it wasn’t all her fault. I had recently quit my job and moved to Canmore for the ice climbing season, an activity that provided solace for me following the difficult breakup. However, within weeks of moving, I sustained an ankle injury while hiking that put me on the couch for the rest of the winter. Suddenly, I had a sturdy tripod of injury, boredom and loneliness on which to display the hollow shell of my heart.
From my living room window, I watched the snowline move down the mountains and retreat again in the spring. Ice climbs formed, ripened and vanished as I huddled before the cold, blue glow of my television.
By early summer, my “tripod of misery” – like the ice – began to crack and falter. My ankle would soon heal and I suppressed boredom by getting a job.
My loneliness, however, proved stubborn and adaptive. It evolved from a sharp pain to a dull ache that at once filled me and pressed against me, making every breath I drew an act of volition. Loneliness fed on my inertia and grew stronger as the summer dragged on. But if I had learned anything from watching ninja movies all winter, I had learned this: a successful warrior uses his opponent’s strength to defeat him.
With loneliness comes a certain freedom. Freedom enables mobility and independence. There. I had a new tripod. And what embodies these three elements better than a motorcycle? I formulated a simple, ambiguous plan – to ride south and live happily ever after.
What the plan lacked in specifics I made up for with enthusiasm, rushing out to find a motorcycle just two months prior to my proposed departure. I bought a used 2001 Kawasaki KLR 650, chosen on the merits of its large capacity fuel tank, cost efficiency and simplicity of design. The bike operates on technology developed in the 1980s, which makes it easy to repair with a hammer and duct tape in the rare event of mechanical failure. This particular machine had 9,000 kilometres on the odometer and had already taken its former owner into the wilds of Alaska. In other words, it had far more experience than I did.
Now, the KLR is neither handsome nor particularly smooth to ride. The engineers responsible for its design possibly took their cues from a pneumatic jackhammer. It looks like a big green and silver dirt bike and finds itself equally at home on dirt trails and the highway. That is to say, it does everything reasonably well, but nothing particularly well. It is too heavy for off-road use, and too tall and light for highway comfort. Still, for this trip, it was the right machine.
Almost as an afterthought, I decided to find a travel partner. The ideal companion would have Spanish skills, mechanical aptitude and experience with travel and motorcycles. He would be optimistic, easy-going and, with only one month remaining before I set out, extremely impulsive. In short, I needed a yang to balance my yin.
With such highly specific criteria, only three names came to mind. I fired off some e-mails and one man responded. I’d met Trevor Martens ten years back while travelling in Austria and, while I didn’t know him all that well, we had kept up sporadic contact over the years. He met most of my criteria, but what made him the perfect and perfectly eager travel partner was this: his girlfriend had just dumped him.
And so, as Trevor frantically juggled obligations at work in Manitoba with shopping for his own motorcycle, I rode from Canmore to my big send-off in Calgary. Several friends gathered in a suburban back alley of the city’s northwest to wish me well. Tolerating my nervous laughter, they offered hugs and handshakes while posing for group photos with the brave hero and the imposing motorcycle that glistened in the sun. The machine roared to life with the push of a button and I revved the engine for dramatic effect. Everyone stood back to let me pass in this, my moment of shining glory.
I revved the engine again and waved goodbye. Then I decided to make a quick, last minute adjustment to my gear. Forgetting to lower the kickstand, I hopped off the bike and it crashed onto its side. It took three of us to hoist the heavily laden bike back onto its wheels. The group disbanded in awkward silence as I dug out my toolkit to repair my clutch and shift levers.
So began my journey to Central America.
“The best travel books are the ones that make you want to hit the open road yourself, and this is one of them.”
– Jennifer Groundwater, author of Western Canada: An Altitude SuperGuide
“A great read, and not just if you’re into motorcycle travel.”
– Grant Johnson, HorizonsUnlimited.com, The Motorcycle Travellers website