Different Origins, Same Destination

By Holly Marcus and Jeremiah Knupp

While planning one of their first major trips together, Holly told Jeremiah that she wanted to ride the Pan-American Highway. And they did.

His side of the story

She called my bluff. I was seriously interested in spending more time with the woman sitting across from me at the hole-in-the-wall Caribbean restaurant on that September afternoon. To that end, I suggested that we do some traveling together — backpacking in Europe, a road trip out West or, as I throwaway mumbled at the end of my list of possibilities, ride a motorcycle down the Pan-American Highway. “I think I’d like to ride the Pan-American,” she replied. I nearly choked on my mouthful of beans and rice.

My momentary panic was based on years of motorcycle riding experiences. 

Jeremiah was introduced to motorcycles at a very young age. “Like learning to walk,” he said, he couldn’t remember when he started learning to ride.

I had grown up with motorcycles. In fact, I had been riding a motorcycle for so long that I couldn’t remember when I had started. By my early 20s, I had wrecked and wrenched, got lost and got flats, been wet and been frozen, enough times on motorcycles that the thought of any of those things happening thousands of miles away from home seemed daunting. I had read about people riding the length of the continent, but the possibility of me doing it, especially alone, had seemed as remote as the far tip of South America.  

But the smile from across the table gave me all the confidence I needed. As they tell you in an MSF course, when things happen at high speed, they happen quickly. In less than two months the pieces had fallen together, from an obscure Moto Guzzi adventure bike called a “Quota” showing up used at a local dealership, to a rudimentary route appearing in a penciled line on a paper map. And we were on our way.

In the days before we left, I often asked myself how I would judge the success of the trip. What if something happened along the way and we couldn’t complete the entire route? What if we got so far and just decided to give up? Would failure be all the ammunition the “I told you so” crowd would need to discourage others from attempting anything outside the status quo? But sometime in the sleepless night before our departure, the answer came to me. Our trip would be a success the moment we were in the saddle and our wheels started rolling south. Anything that happened after that would just be icing on the cake.

A lot did happen after that moment. Many people have taken longer, tougher and more adventurous rides on a motorcycle. For others, having the courage to commute to work on a motorcycle for the first time is an accomplishment just as momentous. When it comes to motorcycles, it’s not how you stack up against others, but how you stack up against yourself, how you allow a motorcycle to let you accomplish what seemed impossible. Sometimes it’s a journey. Sometimes it’s a relationship. And sometimes, it’s both.  

Holly and Jeremiah continue to roam the world on motorcycles.

Her side of the story

He walked into my life by walking into my office wearing a motorcycle jacket and carrying a helmet. In the months that followed, his red Ducati would stand out amongst the cars in the parking lot. 

Motorcycles were unfamiliar terrain for me. My handful of associations amounted to seeing an older cousin and her husband ride their Harleys in a Fourth of July parade once when I was a kid, and finding the Easy Rider poster that my dad had bought in the 1970s. So when he asked me to go on what would be my first motorcycle ride, a summer run through the West Virginia mountains, the mode of transportation intrigued me as much as the company.

I had ridden on the back of a motorcycle exactly three times when I chose the option of “ride the Pan-American Highway.” Three months later, with several longer rides under my belt, the trip idea that he mentioned off-handedly became a reality as we rolled out of the driveway in our home state of Virginia to travel more than 20,000 miles to the tip of South America.

Holly was unfamiliar with motorcycles until she met Jeremiah and decided to take a 20,000 mile trip to the tip of South America.

Back home, after being content as a passenger every day for four months straight, the question became, when was I going to learn to ride? I took the local MSF Basic RiderCourse and got my license. I bought a Honda Rebel 450 off a friend. In a few years, to transition to bigger bikes, I got a dual sport, and learning to ride a tall bike off-road introduced me to a whole new set of skills and possibilities. It also led to a Ducati of my own, sitting in the parking lot. 

Thinking back on the decision, I had no other choice but to take that ride. A motorcycle trip was the perfect way to get to know a person that I discovered loved to explore, loved to travel, loved a challenge, and tackled any hardship with a courage that inspired me. It was love and a motorcycle that cemented the bond between us.

Holly Marcus is an adjunct professor at James Madison University and a freelance photographer and videographer. Jeremiah Knupp is a freelance journalist.