Colombia to Argentina on two Husqvarna 701 Enduro's
Canadian couple Megan and David have just finished an epic ride through South America on their two Husqvarna 701 Enduros, and as South America is also on our "to do list" we just had to ask them about their trip. Here is their story.
How did it all start?
In 2015, we were both off our bikes with injuries for an extended period of time and had lots of time to plan adventures. We decided that we wanted travel and adventure to be synonymous and the idea for an extended international motorcycle adventure was born.
There was one major barrier that we had to overcome however – neither one of us actually had a motorcycle license! Although Dave had spent years riding dirt bikes, and had eventually transitioned to trials riding, he had never taken the time to get a license. I, on the other hand, had hit a few trees trying to learn how to ride dirt bikes and had scared myself out of riding. I finally got comfortable riding trials bikes on the trails in our backyard of Squamish, BC Canada and decided that I was ready to try a bigger bike again.
So we bought enduro bikes, passed our licensing exams and spent the summer of 2017 exploring BC, Canada on as many backroads and trails as we could find. Although the longest trip we did that summer was only 10 days, it was enough to confirm that moto adventure was how we wanted to travel the world.
Which route did you take?
Although we originally planned to ride to Ushuaia, Argentina from our home in Squamish, BC, Canada, we quickly realized that with only 4.5 months to travel we wouldn’t have enough time to explore as we wanted to. We instead decided to ship our bikes to Bogota, Colombia and start our travels from there.
Our goal was to travel as little pavement as possible on our trip and to avoid cities unless it was necessary for bike maintenance or repair. We didn’t have any specific plans other than ‘ride south’ and a date we needed to be home. At no point in our travels did we plan further than a few days in advance and even then it was a loose plan that tended to change quickly.
Essentially I was in charge of figuring out where I wanted to go and Dave was responsible for finding an adventurous way to get there with the best riding. We would intentionally pick the smallest trail, route, double track or explore whatever we came across. Most of the time we were rewarded with spectacular riding, well off the regular tourist route.
Why did you choose to each ride your own bike rather than 2 up?
Travelling on the same bike was never an option for us as I am too stubborn and independent to ride 2 up. Once (and only once) we doubled on a snowmobile and it almost ended in divorce.
I also thoroughly enjoy riding off road and wanted to be able to experience all of South America for myself without having to bounce around behind Dave. Being solo and having limited luggage on the bike allowed us to move around while riding and thus allowed us to explore more technical terrain and routes.
There were additional costs with having 2 bikes but I wouldn't do it any other way.
Riding on separate bikes also gave us a few other advantages:
What are some of the more memorable moments of the trip?
Despite being in the southern hemisphere for Christmas, we still managed to enjoy a ‘White’ Christmas as we are used to in Canada – we camped on Salar de Uyuni, the salt flats, for Christmas eve! We were not the only ones camping and instead we had a unique Christmas with 4 other groups of overlanders. There was our Colombian friend, whom we actually wound up meeting up with in 4 different countries throughout our travels. A Brazilian who had previously travelled throughout all of South America on a motorcycle, but this time was just enroute home from a vacation. Lastly, there was a Dutch family with 2 kids, aged 2 and 4, who had been living in Suriname for the previous 4 years. The kids even helped me decorate a cactus with all their toys.
Between the camping, a cactus Christmas tree, and beautiful sunsets and sunrises over the salt flats, we had a very memorable ‘white’ Christmas that we won’t soon forget.
Tierra del Fuego:
With new found friends, we ventured out down the ‘J’ road from Ushuaia with plans to camp somewhere on the southern most road of Argentina. We found all the regular camp sites but were disappointed by the number of people and lack of seclusion. Dave and I were not deterred and were determined to find a good spot to camp on the ocean. Eventually we found a cow trail, picked our way through the bushes, down the hillside to the beach, across the shores to a rocky headland and discovered a beautiful, secluded beach. Our British friends were shocked at our sense of adventure, asking me “Is this normal for you guys?” We were all rewarded with a spectacular cove where we had a lovely evening of wine and sunsets in Tierra del Fuego.
Huscaran National Park:
Huscaran National Park and the Cordilla Blanca was one of the most spectacular areas we rode. The mountains were huge and the passes high. We intentionally crossed through the park as many times as we could, purely so we could continually experience it. Within the park is Punta Olimpica, the pass that boasts the highest tunnel in the world at 4736m. Rather than ride through the 1.4 km tunnel that cut through the mountains, we instead chose to ride the old road over the pass to 4939m. The route was rough, with many small slides, and was definitely a bit technical for fully loaded adventure bikes. At that elevation, both us and the bikes were struggling for oxygen!
The ride was fantastic and the views from the top incredible. And the thumbs up we got from the local police once we returned to the main road weren’t half bad either!
Which was your favourite country to travel through?
Peru! The mountains and communities of Northern Peru are unbelievable and very few tourists venture North of Lima. The riding was incredible. We spent just over a month in Peru riding at elevations well over 3000m, we even camped as high as 4700m.
In Peru, we used dangerousroads.org to supplement our navigation as well. We would pick the most insane road near us and travel the single lane switch backs down thousands of meters to cross a creek and thousands of meters back up the other side of the valley. One particular road was so intense that I had to ride on the inside of the wrong lane because I was getting vertigo from the cliff on the edge of the road. It was definitely the kind of road that you didn’t want to meet oncoming traffic or take a corner too quickly.
The people living in the mountains of Peru are incredible as well. We were travelling through a mountain pass seemingly in the middle of nowhere only to come across a woman walking the 70km to town. She had live lambs, sheep skins and anything else she could sell strapped to the donkeys walking alongside her. In another community, people came running out and asked if they could take our picture – we were the only ‘gringos’ who had ever been through their village!
Colombia came a close second though. The roads were fantastic and the people were so welcoming. It is not what we expected at all and were pleasantly surprised.
Why did you choose the Husqvarna 701?
We wanted a bike that could handle the offroad that we planned on riding but was also light enough that I could manage it alone without difficulty. We also wanted the bikes to have the power associated with a high performance bike.
We did substantial modifications to the bikes in order to set them up better for the type of travel we wanted to do. We focused a lot on weight and spent a lot of effort to drop kilograms wherever we could.
What made you chose the Nomad kit?
We were looking for navigation towers to help with electronics and wind coverage but of course they had to be compatible with the aftermarket safari tanks that we had installed.
We had hoped to install Nomad kits on both bikes but we ran short on time with the bike building and ultimately only Dave’s bike wound up with the tower.
The Nomad tower on Dave’s bike was flawless during our travels and the wind protection that he received with it was undeniable. I regularly wore 2 additional layers than Dave and was always cold at my zipper line.
Did you have any issues with the bikes and is there something you would change for next time?
All in all we were pretty happy with our setup. We had completed detailed research before we left as well as spending the summer 2018 on multi day trips testing our gear and adapting as necessary.
As Husqvarna is owned by KTM, parts for the 690 are essentially the same. The same engine is used in the KTM 690 Enduro and 690 Duke. Parts availability was never a problem as KTM dealers are literally everywhere.
Your thoughts on travelling overland on an Enduro and would you do it again
YES! We have already booked time and flights to the starting point of our next enduro trip. We are planning on travelling East to West through Russia, Mongolia, and Central Asia on the Silk Road, finishing somewhere in Eastern Europe. Our flights leave June 7th 2020 and planning is well underway.
International traveling on an enduro bike gives you a unique appreciation for the countries you’re travelling through. You are able to experience places and communities that other travellers are unlikely to see. By being able to travel well off the beaten path, you are able to meet the ‘real’ people of each country and experience how they live. To us, this was the Peruvians walking their donkeys going to market, or watching the Guambiano’s of Colombia riding their motorcycles in their traditional attire (including top hats!). We met incredible people who were just living their everyday lives and this is how we experienced these countries.
Being a ‘tourist’ by traditional standards now seems bland in comparison to our experiences. This type of travelling only allows you to see a snapshot of the country you are visiting, and as we discovered, it is not a true version of their world. Immersing yourself in a country and culture by way of enduro motorcycles allows you to truly experience the communities, the mountains and the people that reside there. It is a type of travel unlike any other and one that we intend to continue doing for along time to come.