Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pan American Motorcycle Diaries

The Pan American Motorcycle Diaries
St. John’s to Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics
The Pitch
We consider the Americas in a very segmented manner.  North America considers itself very distinct from Central America, and South America feels as remote to most Canadians as the Himalayas, yet we are all living on the same connected ground.

The Pan American Motorcycle Diaries would document the trek of Canadian motorcyclists as they cross Canada, travel the west coast of the USA and follow the Panamerican highway through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.  In Panama they would gain passage to Guayaquil, Ecuador and continue on their journey through Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia and into Brazil on their way to Rio in time for the 2016 Olympic Games.

This epic journey would take the riders through northern boreal forests, prairies, rain forests of the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, deserts, tropical rain forests, the alto-plano, the Andes, and the Amazon before reaching Rio.  Riders would see the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans while crossing both Tropics, the Equator and two continents coast to coast.

Why motorcycles?  Because they put you in the world.  Riders will feel these places on their faces.  With no climate control they will feel the cold, the heat and interact much more emotionally with their environments.  Motorcycles are a common mode of transport in most of the world because of their cheap operating costs.  Bikes are frugal on gasoline and are environmentally relevant.  North Americans travelling the Pan American highway in SUVs are tucked away in a rolling barrier to communication.  Bikes start conversations and put people together.  You have to stop more often for fuel and breaks, you must take a more personal role in maintaining your vehicle and tend to develop a more personal relationship with it.  Digital recording allows us to collect immersive media that would have been unimaginable on a bike even ten years ago.

The goal of the trip is to connect Canadians to the games in Rio, and the Americas in general, leading up to the world gathering in Rio in August, 2016.  Canadians have a long history of epic marathons for good causes (for Hope, for recognition).  The Pan American Motorcycle Diaries would feature riders who are doing the trip to raise money and awareness for a variety of causes personal to them.  Personally, I’m on a mental health journey following my Mother’s suicide last summer and would be putting my energy into that.

Though a documentary, the media for this trip would stress a near-live feel, with media downloaded for post production at least twice weekly and a strong live social media presence through riders self-producing media throughout the trip.  Current and near future communications and media technology would be pushed to the limit to challenge the static nature of current reality/documentary programming.  Like riding a motorbike, this will feel raw and real, and will allow audiences to interact with the event as it unfolds.

As a lead up to the Olympics in Rio, the trip would also show the Americas as the single piece of ground that we all share, and perhaps dissolve some of the us/them-ness of North American thinking.

The trip operates in 4 stages:

  • stage 1:  NORTH AMERICA:  St John’s NL to Vancouver to LA*
  • stage 2: CENTRAL AMERICA: Mexico, Guatamala, El Salvidor, Nicoragua, Costa Rica, Panama
  • stage 3: Panama City to Guayaquil Ecuador (by ship)
  • stage 4: SOUTH AMERICA: Guayaquil, Ecuador to Lima Peru, through Machu Picchu, La Paz Bolivia, Brasilia Brazil to Rio.
* long way down. A more direct route (Toronto to Panama would be 1/3 the distance)


  • St. John’s NL to Vancouver BC (Canada coast to coast)
  • Vancouver to Los Angeles to Arizona to Mexico

  • St. John’s to Vancouver via Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, and Calgary: 7546kms
  • Vancouver to L.A.: 2053kms

Total North American journey (to the Mexican border): ~ 9600kms



For Motorbikes

People on motorbikes can take advantage of the numerous small yachts making the crossing. Motorbikes are man-handled on and off at each end and ride on the deck of the boats covered in tarps. Almost all boats allow the rider to come along for the amazing trip through the San Blas Islands and some even take care of the customs paperwork at each end.
Costs are around $700.00 USD for bike and rider in 2010.
Hostal Wunderbar have a lot of experience organizing this trip for riders and come very highly recommended.

Though a larger group would warrant purchasing roll on/roll off transport on a larger container ship.

  • 7171kms from Guayaquil to Rio, via Lima, Machu Picchu, La Paz and Brasilia.

  • Coast to coast in South America, and we end up where we started: on the east coast of the Americas facing the Atlantic ocean, 9000kms south of where we started...
  • 22940 kms of driving, 1300kms of ocean travel... a trip of ~25,000 kms over the course of three months
  • Repair and donate the bikes to charities in Rio.
  • 25,000kms... @300kms/day= ~84 days
  • Leave Toronto May 1st, arrive in Rio August 1st (3 months ~ 90 days)
  • Vancouver: May 15th
  • Los Angeles: May 21st
  • Mexico City: June 1st
  • Panama City: June 11th
  • Shipping to June 20th
  • Guauaquil, Ecuador to Machu Pichu: June 30th
  • Machu Pichu, Peru to Rio, Brazil: July 1 - July 30th
  • Get into Rio 1-2 weeks before the Olympics start

  • Motorcyclists of from many walks of life, ages, of different experience levels and interests.
  • Canadians joined by locals at various times for a portion of the trip
  • Offer as many different viewpoints on the culture, geography and experience of riding openly (on bikes) in it as possible
  • Allow for people to give up/quit/head home whenever they wish
  • Have a core group committed to doing the whole trip
  • A single, continuous American experience, from North to South
  • People bring bikes of various vintage, character, capabilities. Swapping possible.
  • The bike/person combination personalized... this examines the machine/human relationship, not corporate sponsorship
  • individual, personal side trips (at 300kms a day, we could easily make time to have days off)
  • The experience of a group of people in unfamiliar surroundings with the exposure of motorcycling
  • Corporate support in individual bike choices, communications (social media/communications), bike culture (equipment), local interests as we pass through.

  • Use the most advanced video, audio and photography possible to put the audience in the saddle
  • Helmets capable of group and one on one conversations between members
  • ‘stick on’ video on various bikes, on various helmets, changeable, offering unique perspectives
  • strong social media presence
    • live & interactive: twitter, Facebook, youtube uploads
    • live webcasts almost daily
    • video, photo and audio sent twice weekly to production for twice weekly television show
    • almost live or live feel to it
  • stress the immediacy of communications - live and dirty
  • Media output:  
    • social media: daily
    • webcasts: at least once every 72 hours
    • TV broadcasts - 30 minute shows, twice a week designed to weave a narrative out of the noise

What I'd take on the trip: Tim's PAMD Kit

Some great pics from along the Pan-Am highway:

PAMD 2.0: Direct Route

If we're doing a more direct route, Toronto to Rio, we'd be shaving six thousand kilometers off the trek...
The direct route: instead of 9600kms in North America, a svelt 3000kms directly to the Mexican border
The total trip if we take the direct route? 11,100kms on land, about 700kms of ocean, unless we want to make landfall sooner...

PAMD 2.0: less boat, one more country on the list...

Reduce boating time from Panama to South America - there is a closer port in Columbia (Buenaventura).
Original route (black), Revised route (white)
770kms through Columbia and into Ecuador to Guayquil, the original landing point
With the direct route and the shorter voyage, costs and time needed drop precipitously!  

Now the 11,100km on the ground part of the trip might be doable in 50 days (300kms/day with some days off). 

With the ocean voyage less than half what it was (under 600kms), it too would be much cheaper.

Though now a ferry is running from Colon, Panama to Cartagena, Columbia, we might consider going the north coast route, which would look something like this!