The Biggest Decision

You may have forgotten, but Annie and I actually live in the United States. Accordingly, we should probably go back there at some point. How we get there? Ay, there’s the rub.


I don’t feel like I’m being overly dramatic here.

What comes next is a huge decision.

If all goes according to plan over the coming weeks, I will successfully reach Salvador, Brazil. This coastal city will be the final song place in Latin America that I will check off of my list. Once I visit there, the only song places remaining will be in the US.

So how will Annie and I return to our home country? That, my friends, is the decision that I am faced with now.

I see two feasible ways: Either I ride all the way back, retracing paths I have already traveled or I put Annie in a crate, send her on a plane and we both fly back to the US.

In this post, I will attempt to discuss the pros and cons of both options. I’m hoping that putting it in writing will help me make the right decision as I reach this crossroad.

Option 1: Ride all the way home

Simple, right? Because of the ongoing turmoil in Venezuela (By the way, congratulations to President Nicolas Maduro who won last week’s “election” with 126% of the vote. You must be really popular…), my route back through South America would be something like this:

There’s no shorter way to get back to Colombia. The route will cover around 7,000 miles in South America, then about 4,000 more to get from Panama to my next song place, Houston, TX. So the total mileage would be around 11,000. I think I could complete it in 2-3 months.

I’ve tried to put a number on the expense of this option, including another round of Darien Gap shipping, all of the bogus border expenses in Central America, gas, food, lodging, replacement parts…it’s tough to know for sure. I think the best range I can estimate is $2,800 (if all goes well) to $4,500 (if nothing goes well),


-Probably the cheaper option.

-Get the opportunity to ride across the Amazon Jungle. Sure to be an experience.

-See things that I missed on the way down.

-Reconnect with people that I’ve met along the way (Ecuafamilia, friends in Mexico, etc..)

-More true to the song: “I’ve traveled ev’ry road in this here land.” This factor cannot be understated. I’ve tried so hard to be respectful of this experience (for example, visiting Schefferville rather than an easier place like “Schaefferville” or “Shepherdsville.”). If I’m going to be the first person to complete this journey, I want to make sure I do it the right way.


-More chance of a major mechanical issue in a place where it would be very difficult to repair.

-More time in dangerous places.

-Having to find a way around the Darien Gap…again.

-Having to negotiate all of the Central American borders….again.

-I could get so worn out that I would not be enjoying the journey anymore.

-More time away from family and friends.

-Nicaragua was calm when I went through, but there is a lot of unrest there right now.

Other notes:

Annie is set up fairly well for this. Only a handful of mechanical things would need to be done to do this extra mileage: One or two more oil changes, one more rear tire, one valve adjustment, new chain and sprockets, possibly one more set of brake pads. I’m getting to the point where I should probably flush coolant and replace brake fluid, but I think I have the tools necessary for those jobs.

Option 2: Ship the bike home

For obvious reasons, Annie is never going into a shipping container again. Accordingly, I would be looking at air freight to send her back home. I have sent emails to a number of companies but have yet to hear any definite responses as far as numbers. This method, too, is hard to estimate. It’s not just the cost of the shipping. I have to factor in the cost of my ticket, the port fees, lodging while waiting, etc. I estimate the total costs for this method to be $3,500 to $5,000.


-It’s fast. Almost like magic!

-There is less variation in the expense. Even though it would probably cost more, there would be less chance of unexpected costs.

-I would be able to complete my goal sooner.

-I would be back in the US in a better season to complete the rest of the places. (Though Crater Lake, Oregon is the most northern one remaining.)


-It feels wrong. It feels like I am cheating

-Probably more expensive in total.

-I would miss out on some of the things I neglected to see on the way down.


Other notes: I think I should maybe not dwell too much on the expenses. It’s going to be a substantial amount either way. I should probably let the other factors be my guide.

As much as I’ve loved my time in Latin America, it has been difficult. It is tempting to take this easier way home, especially when I consider how the final chapter of this journey will feel. Honestly, it’s going to feel like a victory lap after all that has transpired. A nice easy loop around the western US. Through places where I will probably have no language barrier. 🙂


Other options:

There are other creative ways that may mix these two methods. Since the Darien Gap still lies in my path, I will have to do some shipping either way. If I ride back, maybe I could find a shipping path from Salvador to Panama? Or maybe from Bogota to Mexico City? I would be open to any of these options as well, but it’s hard to know where to start looking.



I’m feeling some pressure right now, since my upcoming route will depend a lot upon which option I choose. I almost feel a little tentative about where to go next, since it could mean that I have to backtrack later on. Because of this, I’m hoping to make a decision on this front within the next week. No pressure, right?

I’ve known for years that this decision would ultimately need to be made. I think I thought that some collection of circumstances would almost make it for me, and that I would have a clear direction upon reaching this point. Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately) I don’t have a strong leaning one way or the other at this point. Some days I think it seems obvious to ride back, other days I have a hard time imagining adding that many miles.

If anyone has any input about this decision I would be glad to hear it. Also, if any followers of this quality publication have access to a private jet with room for a motorcycle, let me know. 🙂


One more note:

I’m pretty sure that I am going to be making a change to one of the song places: La Paloma. I initially had this as being sort of a neighborhood in Texas, down by Brownsville, but there does not appear to be too much there.

I’ve discovered a couple more La Palomas: One in Paraguay and one in Uruguay. They are both more populous than the Texas locale, so I think they would take precedence in terms of “notoriety.” I’m leaning towards the Uruguay city at this point, as Paraguay has a $160 visa fee for US citizens.


Alright! I feel kind of bad spending so many valuable words on this when I have lots to catch up on, but I feel like this is an important turning point. Years from now, I will probably consider this choice as either the best or worst decision of the trip.

T.B.D.  🙂


Author: BA


32 thoughts on “The Biggest Decision”

  1. I think you should pack up and fly home to the good ol’ USA. Even though I really enjoy reading your posts, I feel tired hearing about all of your struggles. Carole


    1. That’s one of the major factors: Is it beneficial to keep struggling? I can see two sides to it. Still, I feel like I’m still in a decent place mentally despite all that I’ve experienced.


  2. I like the pros and cons – You’re part of the Overthinkers Annonymous club of the Gustafsons 🙂

    Check out Horizons Unlimited – we met a lot of people who navigated Darian’s Gap with more ease (at least it sounded like it)

    One other option – Leave Annie in Argentina so you can fly back to complete the trip to go to Tierra del Fuego! November to March is awesome weather there! And spend even more time in every country on your way back. Really experience the culture!



    1. Ha! Yep, I’m a card carrying member. I’ve used HUBB quite a bit on my journey. I think my experience was not typical, but it still makes me a bit hesitant to try the same method again.

      I’ve thought about leaving Annie for awhile, but that opens up a lot of other complications with the import paperwork. Some people have told me that I should just get a job here in Argentina for awhile. 🙂 I would really love to make it to TDF though…


      1. Brett, Have you looked at the possibility of driving Annie to the coastal city of Belem, Pará, to the north, at the mouth of the Amazon river and the two of you taking a ship from there to Miami, Fl., or Houston? This may be the quickest option besides flying, and it would allow you to see the mighty Amazon. Dale


  3. I won’t tell you my opinion because it’s not my decision to make, but I wish you the best in making it. I am confident that whatever you choose, it will be an interesting read for us and you will no doubt handle it with joy and a positive outlook that will continue to inspire.


  4. Don’t drive back! It’s a waist of thyme!! Always move forward. Do t base your decisions on a few hundred (or thousand) dollars. Over several years those dollars are meaningless. Your time (and Annie’s life and yours for that matter) are more valuable


    1. Thanks for the advice. The “time” is something which I don’t hold in too high a regard. Right now, time is cheap for me. 🙂 I agree that as the years pass, the financial implication will mean less and less. I’m trying not to lean too heavily on that.


  5. Flip a coin. If you like the coin’s decision, do that. If you feel disappointment, you’ll know it’s not the right choice 😉 I feel like you already know what you’re going to do, it just is exhausting and sucks a little. I think you’ll go the hard way— back through the Darrien Gap.


    1. I’ve actually used that method before! It’s a great way to investigate what one’s true feelings are. I may have to try that. 🙂


  6. I love the Gustafson Overthinkers Annonymous Club. How do you know us so well, Colleen?
    Brett, You know we’ll support your decision whichever way you choose to return home. Keep praying and we will too. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.”. Proverbs 3:5-6 We know you are trusting God and that’s what matters most! Love you, son!! Mom


  7. I’ll put in print what I told you on the phone about advice: It’s a “no win”! If you take our advice and it turns out to have negative consequences you could be upset with us. If it turns out positive you’d be upset with yourself for not having thought of it! That being said I know grandma wants you home and safe as soon as possible and who are we to argue with her! God’s BEST to you as always! Dad


    1. Thanks, Dad. I’m still not sure I agree with this sentiment, but I guess I have to take your advice to not take advice. Wait…but I’ve done that I think I’ve slipped into an infinite paradox… 🙂


  8. I have loved your stories and your journey! It has been dangerous, exciting, and the goal was to get to every place in the song. You have accomplished that with only a couple more places to see in the US. It sounds to me like another 11,000 miles is just overkill……on you and your bike. You did what you intended to do. Your safety is so important and there will be more unrest on your way back. It hasn’t been that long ago that some of the places you have been to, were not places open to us to visit, and
    you got to see them! Don’t confuse accomplishment with over achievement!
    Chris Walker


    1. All good points. Thanks for your feedback. I guess there are still some things I want to see in Latin America and I have to decide if this is the time, or if it will have to wait until later. I’m continuing to monitor the situations in Nicaragua…and now Brazil, those will factor in as well.


  9. Grant here. I like your idea of a hybrid solution. Ride to a port city and catch a boat back to Mexico or any port North of the Darien Gap. Especially if you can find the sort of arrangement where you and the machine are together in the boat. Seems like a sort of compromise between two extreme options. Flying home is so easy you feel like it’s cheating. Riding back is so hardcore you dread it.

    Only other thing I want to say is this: Don’t feel like you need to prove anything to yourself.


    1. A measured and logical response. I’d expect nothing less, Brother. 🙂 There are a couple sailboats doing the Colombia-Panama route. If one of them did Colombia to Yucatan Mexico, I think I’d take that in a heartbeat. Thanks for your thoughts! I’m just trying to work through my little-brother complex!


  10. This is pretty selfish advice, but I feel it’s still worth mentioning 🙂 I’d tell you the same thing I did during your Tucson trip… The decisions you make and actions you take never have an impact on you alone. You’ve got a lot of family and friends who have worn out their knees praying for your safety. Trusting in God’s protection and provision for you is faith building which is always a good thing for us, but I know there are a lot of people who would be very happy to see you home sooner rather than later. All that being said, we still respect and will support whatever decision you make. We love you and trust you! -B&E


    1. Just stop beating around the bush and tell me what to do! 🙂 Seriously though, those are great points. You know that sometimes I’ve struggled with that side of the equation, so I’m glad you brought it up. It’s not ALL about me.


  11. Hey Brett, Uncle Arden here. I’ll put in my two cents worth… I find your pro/con lists interesting. They have both emotional and practical components which will never be reconciled. You’ll never be able to make a decision which satisfies everything or even a majority on either list. That’s just how life is. Most people live second guessing decisions and frankly, some of us (and I’m in that camp ) can become overly sentimental about things. My advice is to make a decision and don’t look back. You’ll never find a choice that satisfies fully.

    My opinion and leaning (since you asked) would be to fly home with or without the bike. You’ve been very fortunate that you haven’t had any more mechanical issues or transit issues. As reliable as our mechanical steeds are, they will break down and yours isn’t exactly a common bike in South/Central America. What happens if the engine blows or you encounter an issue that cannot be cheaply fixed if it can even be fixed in South or Central America? Your original goal of this trip was to visit all these places, not about retracing very difficult steps, and certainly it wasn’t about making sure the motorcycle had the same experience as you. Shipping your trusty steed home doesn’t seem to make sense as you’ll spend more money on shipping (it is an inanimate object, remember…) than the bike is worth. Sell it or leave it in Argentina for another South American adventure. You have a long life ahead to experience those things you had to pass by on this trip.

    If this is more of an emotional decision, and your emotions are that tied up in the bike, admit it, pay the cost (either route has a cost) and get on with your journey.

    We love you and want you to enjoy this! And we’re behind you either way.

    Uncle Arden


    1. Oh man, this is really good stuff. You should go into a career where you like make an address to a group of people every week…I wonder what that could be. 🙂

      The pro/con list is something that my Dad has always been high on. I find value in getting them written down, but you’re right to say that there’s no perfect decision.

      Major mechanical failure in Latin America is probably the thing I fear the most, even moreso than my safety (is that weird?). If I felt that the bike was ailing in any way, I think I would ship home with hardly a second thought.

      My emotional attachment to this machine should be fairly obvious by now. I would really like her to see all 92 places as well. Her windshield did go to Schefferville, after all. 🙂

      That said, I still think the economics of shipping Annie home still make sense. Perhaps in her current state, her book value is only about $3,000, but that doesn’t tell the full story. The time I’ve spent customizing the luggage and all of the electronics is pretty substantial. I’d rather not have to do that all again. Plus, I know the full history of this bike and am very comfortable working on it.

      Thank you for the wonderful input, Uncle. Its an honor to take advice from the best pants delivery person in the whole province of Saskatchewan. 🙂


  12. Selfishly I want my friend back sooner. Even more selfish, I want you back sooner so that I may join you for some of the west coast tour while I still have some summer ahead of me. Echoing many other people, I’ll respect whatever decision you make. Love ya man


    1. Ughhh….I know. I didn’t put that on my “official” pro/con list, but that is something I thought about. Even if I do ship back, though, I’m not sure I will make it back to the states by the end of the summer. We might have to get creative. Thanks for being such a constant encourager through so many chapters of my life. 🙂


      1. Yeah you might be right about this summer. We’ll make it work whenever you’re back and ready. Actually it’s looking right now that Natalie and I will be spending some time with Brad and Elise in Vancouver later this summer.


  13. So, I’m just a fan, but would like to add my logical two cents.
    I like your pros and cons, but in the end, what is the purpose of your whole trip?
    To visit all the locations of the song. You have done that in SA.

    Time to get you and Annie on a flight back to the US to complete the journey.


    1. Thanks for weighing in. I’ve decided that doing sort of a compromise is the best way for me to proceed. I have a hard time passing up the opportunity to ride through the Amazon. 🙂


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