R. E. Higdon has been a motorcycle pen pal for as long as I can remember, whose best prsose is the fan mail he occasionally sends. But he’s in fact a better writer than most of us. A retired D.C. atttorney, he’s written for all manner of motorcycle publications on the side, most recently for the Iron Butt Association’s magazine. When he let drop he was undertaking a big trip to South America, naturally we asked if we could ride along. 


In a few days I fly to South America.  The plan is to ride a motorcycle from the top of the continent to the bottom.  I will be joining a dozen other riders in Cartagena, Colombia for the start of this adventure.  It is a well-organized, take-no-prisoners tour that will last more than two months.  I’ve tried four times in the last 22 years to make this ride, either alone or in the company of a few friends.  Each attempt quickly went pear-shaped, half the time before we even crossed into Mexico.  Now I’m hoping to buy myself a finisher’s medal.  To do so in this fashion, much like being carried by sherpas to the top of Everest in a chaise lounge, is the last resort of an aging scoundrel.

Apart from being a thing undone, irritating enough in its own right, there’s a box I need to check off here.  The ride concludes in Ushuaia, Argentina, a town that bills itself as the southernmost inhabited spot on the continent.  It isn’t, but it’s close enough.  Should I make it, I’ll have ridden to where the road ends in South America, North America (Prudhoe Bay), Europe (Nordkapp), and Africa (Cape Agulhus).  Theoretically, I suppose, that would leave some frozen hellhole like Magadan in Siberia as the northernmost town to be bagged in Asia, but I rode across Siberia once and I’ll never be crazy enough to go there again.

The tour’s leader, Helge Pedersen, will be setting up a web journal for our group soon.  I’ll post a link when it becomes available.  I hope to be able to post some notes of my own from time to time, depending on the web’s mood and mine.  If you’d rather opt out, drop me a line.  You won’t hurt my feelings; I’m a lawyer.  Here’s a link to my Spot tracker: https://tinyurl.com/ybspwzx5 . It won’t become active until I reach Cartagena late Saturday.

Wish us luck.  😎

The first installment involved an airplane:

   Due to unrealistic scheduling optimism last night, my spousal equivalent, Chris, and I managed to get about four hours of sleep before three separate alarm clocks went off beginning at 0300. Ninety minutes later I was being picked out for secondary inspection by the Kabuki Theatre players at TSA in Baltimore. My fear was that they would target the 35 packets of Crystal Light lemonade that I’d methodically emptied into an innocent-appearing plastic container as a crafty form of gelignite that my ISIS supervisors had smuggled to me by way of a submarine hidden off the coast of Daytona Beach. But they waved it through, only to rescan my computer bag where I’d falsely declared at check-in that I had no lithium batteries. There’s something about the word “lithium” that sets off red alerts among the TSA cast of players, possibly because half of them pre-medicate themselves with it before coming to work. But they missed all four of the lethal AAs.

A couple of hours later I was en route to Miami for a plane change to Cartagena. The carrier was American Airlines, who advertises, “We’re not as bad as United!” But seat 13F was something the Inquisition could have used to convert heathens. I drifted off to a fitful sleep about 0630. At 0715 I woke up saying to myself, “Bobby, you’re going to puke.” I haven’t vomited since 1966. Shifting around in the seat didn’t help. There was no objective reason for my unease. The flight had been uncommonly serene. I opened my eyes. The cabin was alit with the rising sun. I could see the light, but that was about all I could see. In the course of 45 minutes, I had become effectively blind.

I sat back. My stomach continued to churn. A few seconds later I slowly opened my eyes again. Everywhere I looked was a hazy, whitish, impenetrable fog. I slid open the plastic shade covering the window. I had a seat just in front of the right wing. I couldn’t see it. I turned to the guy in the middle seat to my left. I could see a grayish shadow, but in truth I couldn’t tell if it was a man, two little girls, or a regiment of bagpipers sitting there.

Again I closed my eyes and returned to my ‘tray table closed and seat in upright position.’ ABC, they teach the paramedics: airway, breathing, and circulation. No obstruction in the airway; the breathing was not labored or raspy; and my heart rate didn’t seem elevated or absent, but I couldn’t see my watch to make anything but a guess. I still wanted to throw up, but wanted not to throw up even more.

And then a kind of quiet peace settled in. The only conclusion remaining was that I’d blown out a big artery or vein in the occipital lobe of my brain, it had nailed the optic nerve, and I would be dead before I could finish the thought. I’ve always wondered what would eventually get me. I never thought it would be a crappy seat on American Airlines.

At some point I remember smiling. What a marvelous run I’d had. For five minutes or more I sat with my eyes closed, peeking now and then. Mist, nothing but white, miserable mist. This went on for more than 20 minutes. Finally, mercifully, the fog seemed to be dissipating. I tried to sleep, perhaps to extend the hope. When next I opened my eyes fully, the world had returned in its customary form. No bagpipers sat next to me.

I’ve got three physicians on this bcc: list and I’m sure they’re eager to weigh in, so to speak, right about now. My initial thought that this was somehow diet-related. I’d recently lost 15 pounds on a rigid, low-carb diet, so much so that on New Year’s Eve I weighed 165 pounds,exactly what I’d weighed when I was a sophomore in college. I’d even stopped drinking soft drinks with caffeine, once an unthinkable proposition. I was willing to head to 157 pounds, my high school weight, when Chris looked at me with Those Eyes and asked me to stop. I did. In the last week before today, I gained four pounds. This wasn’t a weight issue. I know it.

Mike Kneebone [Iron Butt Master] has been my motorcycle trip psychiatrist for almost 30 years. We have ridden everywhere together. He has kept my psyche stuffed in one sock more times that I want to remember. I called him when I got to the hotel in Cartagena.

“You had a panic attack,” he said. “You’ve been putting this pressure on yourself to complete the ride south for almost as long as I’ve known you. It has to be that. And now you’re on the way. It’s behind you, just like it was in Siberia. You’ll be fine now.”

Maybe so. When I got onto the plane in Baltimore, I crossed, as did Caesar a few years ago, the Rubicon. There was no going back now. In the plane my choice was to jump out of a door at 38,000 feet or go on. My sleeping brain, whatever the hell that deranged thing is, evidently didn’t like those choices.

You’ve carried me through the hot coals before, Mike. I hope you’re right once again.

 Addendum: Was the earlier Spot URL hacked by the Russians? We don’t know. So we’ll foil them with

this one: https://tinyurl.com/ybspwzx5.

Ride like the wind, Bob!


  • Rocky Stonepebble

    Rather confused about the visuals provided. I’m not certain about the U.S. armed forces, but where I come from, a regiment (pipers or otherwise) would require more than one aeroplane, let alone one seat. Even a regiment’s pipers would knock the shit out of the better part of an aircraft’s seating plan.


    • john burns

      5 minutes i’ll never get back there Stonepebble.

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        Really? You don’t know the film?

        • john burns

          A Skirt too Far? Nae, aye do nae know it. Do you have a starring role?

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            “Nae, aye do nae (dinnae) …”?

            You do not know Alec Guinness’s greatest role as Colonel Jock Sinclair, a former regiment piper that becomes the regimental commander in Ronald Neame’s “Tunes of Glory”?

            Besides the fact that Sir Alec often said this was his greatest film, it introduces many a chronic masturbator to the beautiful Susannah York!

            But, back to the relevance; the climax of this great film was a way to tick all of the boxes of the editorial content, and the post.

            Pipers? Yup.
            Regiments? Got it.
            Pipe music? Tick.
            Scotland’s lovely Stirling Castle? Bingo!

            Speaking of which:
            https://youtu.be/ikMiQZF-mAY Shot on location

  • allworld

    one kilometer at a time………… you will be fine.

  • Mad4TheCrest

    Looking forward to the trip reports. As for that stint of nausea and poor eyesight, I am not a Doctor but I can posit it being one of two things: (1) the position you slept in either obstructed blood flow and/or your breathing, either of which cut the oxygen levels to your brain, or (2) you had a minor stroke due to a clot thrown from a DVT that formed somewhere in your legs. I’d wager on this second possibility since it is known to happen on planes. If you can find a doctor you trust in Cartagena I’d recommend you get a checkup

    • Rocky Stonepebble
    • Michael Kneebone

      Bob is in great health and this was only a few minutes into the plane flight from DC to Miami. I have known him 20 plus years and ridden around the world with him – it is totally nerves. But your advice is well heeded, had this happened on the longer Miami > Columbia leg of the flight, it could be just that. Bob reports he is feeling well and ready to roll but Customs has other plans for his bike, but I see they are there now trying to get them.

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  • Gruf Rude

    I’ve had repeated bouts of that weird, ‘white out’ loss of sight, but only in my right eye. Multiple doctors have no clue. For whatever reason, it stopped happening and has not recurred in the last few years. Some speculation that it might be some sort of ‘silent migraine’ that does not cause pain.

    • 12er

      Ive had an allergic reaction that whited out my vision. It started coming back right before they hit me with the two shots of adrenaline and whatever else they hit me with. So I may have been riding it out prior to the meds. But vision was totally back within 5 min of the shots.

      I also get ocular migraines but they dont act like this. More like sparkly crystals in your vision.

  • Alan Golightly

    wife is from barranquilla. always warm there.

  • vastickel@gmail.com

    Robert, have you quit smoking? Maybe that’s the malady? I remember an Aerostitch, in yellow(of sorts) full of cigarette burns!
    Have a memorable time and a safe ride!

  • Rob Mitchell

    Bob, I’ve missed reading your prose and look forward to following you on this journey. I still smile at the memory of your daily reports from AMI in Daytona all those years ago.