Freedom

First year medical sailed into history yesterday, and with it a big weight has been lifted.  On the way back from the last exam, I saw people sitting in the park reading newspapers and drinking coffee.  And then I realized that this is what non-medical people do.  What a luxury is to sit in the park and not have to feel guilty about not studying.

I believe that having three months off to do whatever I want this summer is also a priceless luxury.  This is especially true considering that the demands of clerkship and residency will make first year medical seem like a walk in the park.  How many people have the freedom to remove themselves from their normal lives for a summer to pursue their own interests?  Not many.  I have spoken with many residents and doctors who have urged me not to waste the summers off in medical school.  They unanimously agree that time is the most precious thing we have as medical students.

I have the freedom to get on my motorcycle and just keep on riding south until I run out of land.  A lot of people have been asking my why I would want to do something as crazy as riding a motorcycle from here to the tip of South America.  My answer is that I want to experience the world.  I want to see what it is like to live day to day, taking in the different landscapes and cultures, and only thinking as far ahead as the next meal or where to spend the night. This trip has the potential to be the adventure of a lifetime.   

As far as I’m concerned, there are probably only two realistic opportunities left in probably the next decade to do something like that: this summer and next summer.  I’m excited about the motorcycle adventure Ted and myself will be shortly embarking upon (and Tom for the three weeks he’ll be with us).  It will certainly be challenging at times, but I would be hard pressed to come up with a way I’d rather spend one of my last two remaining summers of freedom. 

The science fiction writer Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park) has been traveling the world for many years.  He recently wrote a book (Travels) in which he describes his many adventures.  As an aside, he also describes how he became disillusioned with medical school (he earned his M.D. at Harvard) and the reasons behind his decision to leave medicine to become a writer.  Thankfully patients are granted much more autonomy today than they were in the days when Michael Cricton was attending medical school.

In Travels, Michael Crichton explains that often he feels he goes to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who he really is.  He says “there is no mystery about why this should be so.  Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of food, your closet full of clothes — with all this taken away, you are forced into direct experience.  That’s not always comfortable, but it’s always invigorating.”

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More trip preparation

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If you’ve been following the trip planning on this blog, you will know that not only do I have to get my own KLR650 (Rosa) fully modified in time for the upcoming adventure through the Americas, but I also have to do the same to Tom’s KLR650 (The Odyssey).  With our planned departure date of June 1st, 2007 quickly approaching, I have to admit that I have been feeling anxious about whether I will be ready to leave in time.

Progress has been slow, for a number of reasons.  For one, it is hard to find time with the demands of medical school.  Also, my mechanical skills (although improving) are such that it takes me significantly longer than a trained professional to do most modifications to the bikes.  Keep in mind that before I started doing modifications to my motorcycle, the most “mechanical” jobs I had ever undertaken were assembling Ikea furniture.  At least I knew what an Allen key was.  I now feel confident that I can do most basic motorcycle jobs if given enough time.

Unfortunately time is a luxury that I do not have.  Most of the remaining time before we leave will have to be spent studying the inner workings of humans as opposed to motorbikes.  So, to save time, I spent all day yesterday at T.O. Cycle to have Jeremy work on The Odyssey.  Jeremy installed The Odyssey’s braided brake lines & galfer pads, drilled the frame for the subframe bolt upgrade kit, installed the rear suspension and dialed it up for a heavy load, changed the doohickey (a big job), and installed the engine guard and left tank guard.  Getting the engine guard to fit with the bashplate installed proved to require a lot hammering and even some grinding.

The Odyssey is now nearly ready for the Kid’s arrival.  I went for a spin on her today and snapped these shots.  The top left picture was taken in Nathan Phillips square in front of city hall.  The bottom right picture was taken on the sidewalk on Spadina.  The top right and bottom left pictures were taken on the steps of the provincial legislature building.  While the bike was, er, well off the road, a police cruiser drove by.  I thought I’d get told to move the bike (at the very least), but I didn’t even draw a second glance.  This was lucky because I’m not even sure which license plate was on the bike, and whether or not it even matched the registration/insurance that I had in my pocket.  Whew.  Oh well, I guess I’ve found a new parking spot.  From the picture below, you can see that the Odyssey is good at climbing stairs.

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As an aside, one thing I can check off the list of things to do before departing is medications/vaccinations.  I’ve been poked for Hepatitis A & B, yellow fever, and typhoid.  I just spent $202 on 5 different drugs:
Chloroquine (anti-malarial; 2 tablets/week)
Doxycycline (anti-malarial; 1 tablet/day)
Malarone (anti-malarial; 1 tablet/day; causes hallucinations and intense dreams…cool)
Acetazolamide (for altitude sickness; 1/2 tablet 2x/day)
Cipro (“when” not “if” I get diarrhea with fever & bloody stool; 1 tablet 2x/day).

Trip Update

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My planned trip through the Americas has evolved substantially in the last couple of months.  At first, I was planning on flying my bike and myself to Buenos Aires, Argentina and riding north back to Toronto.  Tom was going to ride with me for 3 weeks and as far as Lima, Peru.  This plan has since changed for a number of reasons.  Now, the plan is to ride south from Toronto to Santiago, Chile.  Tom will come as far as Guatemala City, and then fly himself and his KLR650 back to London from there.  One reason for the change in plans is that the cost of shipping motorcycles from Toronto to South America is prohibitively expensive.  Motorcycles are considered “dangerous goods” and it costs at least $2500 to for a one way trip south.  On the other hand, it costs about $1500 to ship a bike from Santiago to Toronto.

Perhaps the most important modification of my original plan, however, is the addition of a new travel companion.  One of my classmates, Ted Macher, is going ride with me for the entire 3 month journey south.  He had heard about my planned adventure, and one day in class he came up to me and said he wanted to talk to me about my trip.  The rest is history.  How cool is that?  I have to admit, I didn’t think anybody in my class would be into something as crazy as riding a motorcycle to the tip of South America.

Ted has since bought a 2007 Suzuki DR650 specifically for this trip.  Sadly, I was unable to convince him to get a Kawasaki KLR650.  Something about it being too tall of a bike…  I am relieved to have a travel companion.  Now the constant battle between the fear and excitement that has been gripping me in anticipation of this trip has tipped in favour of excitement.  I think the only person who is happier than me that Ted is joining me is my mom.

Ted, in true enduro spirit, wants to design and build his own panniers and mounting rack.  He intends to use two tool-boxes supported by a rack which he plans to weld together himself.  His workshop is the 14th floor balcony of his apartment.  After purchasing a stick welder, the next challenge was of course to learn how to weld. 

So far he has created a gnome and a picture frame.  He was able to further practice his technique by “welding” a plate to the bottom of Tom’s kickstand.  This is a useful modification, preventing the kickstand from digging into soft ground.  The kickstand welding job turned into a real work of art, as evidenced in the above pictures.  We tried smashing that plate off with a hammer to no avail, proving that the weld is also functional despite it’s artistic merit.

My only hope is that when it comes time to do add the “big foot” modification to my own kickstand, that Ted will not have lost his artistic touch.

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Left: Ted and his roommate Tim, Halloween 2006.  For some reason a lot of people get their names confused.
Right: Ted riding is new DR650 from the dealership. 

How to install a doohickey on a KLR650

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Last weekend I went camping on the shore of Georgian Bay to test out some of my new equipment (e.g. tent, sleeping bag, thermarest, water filter, SLR camera, etc.).  As I was riding out of Toronto with all the adventure gear on the bike, I had a moment where I was tempted to just keep on going.  Too bad there are still 3 and a half weeks of medical school left before I really am free (or so I hope).  

I got “lost” on purpose on my way to Craigleith Park where I was to join a group of friends who had already arrived (by car).  I successfully turned what normally is maybe a 2 hour drive into a 4 hour mini-adventure.  I explored the Hockley River valley as well as the Beaver Valley road.  There were some great twisties and not much traffic.  It may not be the California coast highway, but I was grinning like a kid on Christmas morning the whole ride.  Some of the best fun of the trip was when I left the pavement and ended up on hard packed dirt track through a hilly section of forest.  I rode for an hour without seeing another vehicle or person.

Recently, I have been working pretty hard to get both my bike and Tom’s bike ready for adventure.  Last week I installed Tom’s acerbis handguards, Odyssey battery, and Caribou luggage system. 

My bike is now almost ready.  Last weekend, instead of studying for a midterm as I should have been doing, I took Rosa to T.O. Cycle and had the guys drill out the frame for the subframe mount kit, replace the engine idle adjuster chain (doohickey), and install the braided brake lines.

Below is a picture record of how to change a doohickey on a KLR650.  The last picture (bottom right) shows where to drill through the frame for the subframe upgrade kit. 

(left to right, row by row)
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Now, the only thing remaining is to install the crash bars and put the spoilers on the acerbis rally pro handguards.  Then I need to do all this to Tom’s bike.  I sure hope we’ll be ready to roll come June 1st.

I can’t believe that in less than a month I will be on the road for the next three months.  This year has gone by incredibly fast.