Darwin thrill-seeker sets out on a 22,000-mile motorcycle journey through South America
By Kristen Miller
Considered quite the daredevil, Ryan Ahlgren spent two months hitchhiking through southeastern Europe and Ireland. Scuba-diving and down-hill mountain-biking are also part of his thrill seeking.
Now, the 2008 Dassel-Cokato High School graduate has once again set out on an adventure of a lifetime, traveling on his motorcycle 22,000 miles from his home in Darwin to the southern-most town of Ushuaia, Argentina. He will use no map, only a compass on his phone and the west coast to guide him.
In conjunction with his moto-adventure, Ahlgren hopes to raise awareness of the poverty in Central and South America and the work being done by a non-profit organization, The Latitude Project.
Ahlgren knows very well that traveling 22,000 miles along the west coast on unknown roads in unfamiliar countries is not a safe thing to do.
But having broken his neck last summer mountain biking in Jackson Hole, Ahlgren further realized that life is short and he has a lot of dreams yet to accomplish this trip being one of them.
On his blog, Away and Far Removed, on which people can follow his journey, Ahlgren wrote: “Life is too short, period. I’ve always dwelled on the inevitability of my short existence and of how I would look back at my youth, wishing I did more. Perhaps everyone does, but in those last moments of my life, I want to have made a difference, and inspired the generations [after] me.”
Currently, Ahlgren is in the Army Reserve, having been deployed to Iraq in 2010. The Army has granted him a one-year absence, which has helped make this trip possible, he said.
He also is taking classes online to become a geography and social studies teacher a complimentary career for his worldly adventures.
Ahlgren’s grandparents happen to be missionaries in Latin America, which also influenced the area in which he will travel. As a young boy, he would visit his grandparents during his summer vacation and work alongside them in Latin American villages.
“When deciding to do this trip, I wanted to make it about more than just an adventure on a motorcycle,” Ahlgren wrote on his blog.
“I realized I could use this journey to bring awareness to areas I would be travelling through that do not have access to the same basic necessities we are lucky enough to [have],” he added.
Ahlgren learned about The Latitude Project and its Canadian founders Alanna and Jennifer Tynan, through his girlfriend, who is also from Canada.
It was while attending a fundraising event for the non-profit that Ahlgren realized this was exactly what he was looking for to coincide with his motorcycle adventure.
“They have an undeniable passion and heart for Latin America, and started The Latitude Project to help alleviate the stresses of poverty through health, sanitation, and education initiatives,” Ahlgren wrote on his blog.
“Rather than simply donating money and returning home, Latitude strives to empower, educate, and engage with people to create sustainable, positive changes that are welcome in the communities.”
Currently, the non-profit is raising funds for a project called Raisin’ the Roof, which will assist rural Nicaraguan communities fix dilapidated roofs in order to provide adequate protection during the rainy season.
Donations for this project can be made through Ahlgren’s blog.
“None of the money will be going to me,” he commented. “I am doing this because I have a heart for travel and an equally large heart for making a difference in the world,” he added.
“When I come home, I probably will be broke,” he said with a laugh. “But if I can raise awareness or even some money to help this organization and what these young women are hoping to accomplish, this ride will be even more unforgettable to me.”
Embarking on his journey
Ahlgren, the son of Pam and Steve Ahlgren, left his home in Darwin June 3. For the night, he made a stop in Pipestone to see his former youth director, Steve Stahl.
The morning of June 4, Ahlgren was on his way to a destination in Vancouver, BC, where he was scheduled to arrive June 6.
On his blog, Ahlgren accounts the first day of his journey, which ended in Billings, MT, where he slept in a gas station parking lot overnight.
“I found so much joy in riding down random roads and feeling the wind on my face,” Ahlgren wrote of his ride on the first day through the Black Hills and Wyoming. “Nothing could take me away from the freedom that I felt.”
The second day, however, was not like the first. This was the day he would ride up to Glacial National Park and into Canada. His plan was to make it to Vancouver to see his girlfriend on Wednesday.
“What ended up happening though, was nature deciding that she was going to give me a taste of her sadistic power,” Ahlgren wrote on his blog.
Nearing Idaho, he found himself on a treacherous mountain pass among a line of slow-moving vehicles, in the wind, cold, and rain. Instead of turning around or stopping, Ahlgren decided to just get where he was going faster.
“By the grace of God, I made it alive down that mountain,” he wrote.
Trying to avoid major highways, Ahlgren noticed one highway that cut through Washington all the way to the coast.
“This highway brought me to the brink of hypothermia, froze me to the bone, and broke my fastest speed record on my bike,” he wrote.
He did make it safely to his destination in British Columbia, where he will watch his girlfriend graduate college before leaving Saturday, June 23 on his coastal ride down south.
A risky adventure
Ahlgren’s mother, Pam, said her son always seeks adventure, accounting his previous trips, such as backpacking through Europe, which included “couch surfing,” where he slept in random places.
Ahlgren said he knows there are people with mixed feelings about his motorcycle adventure, who say it’s too dangerous. In response, he said he has balanced the risks and rewards.
“I’m too dedicated to turn back,” Ahlgren said June 7 after making it to his destination in Vancouver the night before.
“Nothing can stop me except getting my motorcycle stolen,” he said.
His mother is among those concerned for his safety, particularly because of the increased danger with the drug cartels in Central and South America.
The countries he will be riding through are Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina.
“There are a lot of people praying for him,” she said adding, “I wasn’t as worried when he went to war as I am with this trip.”
“I think he has 100 guardian angels, where my girls probably share one,” she said, recalling his broken neck last summer from downhill mountain-biking.
Preparing for the trip
To prepare for his journey, Ahlgren purchased a number of neccesseties to help keep him as safe as possible. As one who enjoys film and photography, Ahlgren was also sure to purchase a quality camcorder to record parts of his journey.
After purchasing the items (which are outlined on his blog), Ahlgren needed to make sure it all fit on his motorcycle. Amazingly, all of it did, he said.
Included on the bike are two 35-liter panniers, a gallon of extra fuel, a gallon of extra oil, lots of spare parts, tools, clothes, tent, sleeping bag, tarp, hatchet, camping stove, pots/pans, journals, spare tubes, spare tires, two tire pumps, a guitar, a backpack, and bear spray.
Also on his motorcycle is a quote from explorer and author Mark Jenkins, which Ahlgren said is “for a bit of reality and a confidence boost” along his trip.
It reads: “Adventure is a path. Real adventure self-determined, self-motivated, often risky forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it.
“Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind and perhaps realize that you, yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”
To follow Ahlgren or donate to The Latitude Project:
Ryan Ahlgren has created a blog, Away and Far Removed, that he will use to give updates on his adventure when possible. Also on the blog is further information about The Latitude Project and how one can donate to the nonprofit organization. Visit http://awayandfarremoved.blogspot.com for more details.