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ADV NewsArmy Vets Take On Perilous Darien Gap With KLR650s In New Film

Army Vets Take On Perilous Darien Gap With KLR650s In New Film

Four KLRs undertake transcontinental motorcycle expedition via the infamous jungle.

Published on 10.18.2022

It’s not the typical ride a bunch of guys on KLR650s take, even if those guys are all former Army veterans with years of active duty under their belts. Nope, undertaking the 19,000 mile journey from Purdue Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina, and especially attempting to do it continuously, is reserved for the most adventurous of crews. 

Adding a crossing of the 66 miles of dense, roadless, snake and smuggler-infested jungle that is the infamous Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia to the itinerary? Well that’s just plain crazy. Or so people would tell friends Wayne Mitchell, Richard Doering, Mike Eastham and Simon Edwards before, during and after their bold adventure. Heck, they say the same of it themselves. 

Expedition from Alaska to Patagonia through Darien Gap on KLR650s
The road physically ends in Yaviza. It then takes 1-2 days in dug out canoes to get to Paya where many miles of tortuous jungle riding and trekking await.

Good thing the guys had a couple videographers along to document their expedition, which started back in the late fall of 2017. Even better is how Revzilla ended up picking up the hour-long, in-depth documentary about the friends’ eventful ride. The final cut of “Where the Road Ends,” is now up on the online retail giant’s Common Thread YouTube channel.


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ADV Pulse reported on the crew’s ride down the Americas and their Darien Gap crossing back in 2018 when they were freshly off the road. And while the storytelling back then and the storytelling in the documentary physically begin and end in the same place, the hour long video is able to delve much deeper into the military veterans’ motivations and the life-mirroring revelations they encountered along the way. 

Expedition from Alaska to Patagonia through Darien Gap on KLR650s
The Team’s weapon of choice, the KLR650, was outfitted with a custom sidecar for stability on the ice and extra storage on the Arctic portion of the journey. Once in Oregon, the sidecars were dropped.

In fact, the military service perspective is what makes this video especially poignant, acting as a thread that weaves into their story the primal importance of camaraderie and purpose, needs that are fostered in a military environment and further amplified during deployments. Yet it’s these same benefits that leave many vets feeling a void when they return home from active duty.

“When I came home from the war, I missed it,” says Wayne, the trip’s instigator, of his time in Afghanistan. “Having a mission. Having a purpose…I was probably the best person I’m ever going to be.” 

Expedition from Alaska to Patagonia through Darien Gap on KLR650s

In “Where The Road Ends” the guys are quick to point out that what they were experiencing prior to the trip wasn’t PTSD, it was more of a longing for the structure and intention inherent to service. And it turns out, at least to some extent, that those satisfying feelings they left behind in the military can be roused by the planning and execution of a wild-ass motorcycle adventure, a ride which for these guys became nothing short of a mission.  

In fact, their trip starts off nuts as they coax the KLRs, initially equipped with ballast-providing side hacks custom made by Freedom Sidecars, down the 414-mile Dalton Highway in whiteout winter conditions. 

Expedition from Alaska to Patagonia through Darien Gap on KLR650s

The Dalton’s salty truckers aren’t amused: “I’ve seen some stupid stuff, but nothing like this,” says one over an open channel when he sees the guys snowbound in the dark on the side of the road. Another wisely ponders if the “dumbasses” have done any research. “I don’t just put my canoe in a river because I see a river,” he says. 

This section of the ride looks like punishment enough, but the guys, who have varying degrees of motorcycle experience, soldier on, down through a very wintery British Columbia to find their first sunshine in Washington State. The parts of the film that show the riding through Canada, the US and Mexico are interesting and have some spicy moments including some crashes and one of the guys getting sideswiped by a car, but what we’re all waiting for, of course, is to see what happens when the road actually ends at the impassable Darien Gap.

Expedition from Alaska to Patagonia through Darien Gap on KLR650s

Without giving anything away we can confirm it’s a brutal eight days. We can also recommend that anyone trying to muscle a nearly 500-pound (loaded) KLR across muddy ravines and swamps should probably carry some extra clutch plates. There’s red tape and trench foot, broken shit and hunger, and also a small army of indigenous Kuna tribe members who get paid to help the strangers drag the unlikely machines across their tribal lands. 

Very few people ever cross between Panama and Colombia this way, or even venture into the Darien Gap, which is not only roadless, but plagued with rogue paramilitary forces, drug smugglers, scorpions and poisonous snakes and plants. We’ve written about how Helge Pedersen memorably conquered the Gap in the 1980s, and since then few have attempted to cross, especially on two wheels. Almost every rider opts to bypass the dangerous section of jungle by shipping, sailing or flying their bikes from Panama to Colombia, or vice versa. 

Expedition from Alaska to Patagonia through Darien Gap on KLR650 adventure motorcycles
The team had pulleys, winches, climbing gear and set a cable up a couple of times to zip-line bikes across big ravines and rivers.

There’s no doubt “Where The Road Ends” is a great watch, even if you’re there to see the inside of that mysterious jungle and witness the grueling heave-ho required to pass through the Darien Gap. But the real magic in this documentary is getting to know these four veterans. We see how their lives and their sense of satisfaction were shaped by their military service, and how in some ways, those lives were saved, at least temporarily, by a post-duty deployment to ride four Kawasaki thumpers from the top of the world to the bottom. 

The hardest part of the mission for these guys, yet again, appears to have been going home.  “I was hoping to see some kind of sign,” says Wayne looking out at the islands of Tierra del Fuego. He says he was hoping for revelation about what was going to be different, but “the same kind of demons that helped me decide to go on this trip are still there.”

Expedition from Alaska to Patagonia through Darien Gap on KLR650 adventure motorcycles

Yet he also came to realize that no one trip will make a person feel complete. “You’ve gotta find that enjoyment in everything you do…right where you’re at.” 

And thankfully, in the meantime, motorcycles and the open (or not so open) road will always be there when we need to regroup with comrades, settle our minds or just ride the hell out of a sunny afternoon. 

Photos by Jake Hamby and Alex Manne

Author: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

Author: Jamie Elvidge
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7 thoughts on “Army Vets Take On Perilous Darien Gap With KLR650s In New Film

  1. Jamie; I have often thought about a trip like this; but I am now convinced of two things, I am too old for this and the Darien Gap requires an army of people to cross.

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