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ADV RidesRider Loses Job To COVID So She Set Off On Solo Adventure Across US

Rider Loses Job To COVID So She Set Off On Solo Adventure Across US

Devastated by loss of her job, rider embarks on a solo journey of her dreams.

Published on 08.13.2020

Just like so many of us, rider Nikki Chamberlain has been affected greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic. After getting laid off from her job as an onboarding specialist for AirBnB because of the Coronavirus situation, Nikki felt devastated. However, after much contemplation, she soon realized this could be an opportunity to do something she’d wanted to do her whole life. So she left her San Francisco apartment, put her belongings into storage, and set out on a solo motorcycle journey across the US. Her goal, to visit each of the contiguous 48 states of America before winter sets in—camping in every state.

Nikki chose her trusty daily commuter for the journey — a 1996 Suzuki Savage which only cost her $1,600.  She reasoned that if it came to it, she could always ditch the bike and buy a new one on the journey. She has been on the road for two months now having started in Nevada and traveled through California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah. For Nikki, this cross-country motorcycle camping adventure is all about turning the situation around, self-discovery, and exploration of both the United States and the new world we live in.

A Traveler At Heart

Originally from New Zealand, Nikki has been into motorcycles and traveling from a young age. “I’ve always been curious to better understand the world I live in through the lens of other people’s experiences, their stories and their unique cultural perspective,” Nikki said. After graduating university, she moved to Vietnam to teach English, then backpacked around Europe and lived in the UK, Italy, and Canada before winning the US green card lottery and moving to California. Having learned to ride when she was seventeen on a Honda CRF230 and owned bikes in New Zealand and later Vietnam, Nikki was excited to get a motorcycle in the US.  “I found a job in San Francisco, a city whose Victorian architecture I was utterly obsessed with. Best of all, the weather (and hills), meant getting another motorcycle was on the cards. This is when I found my sunshine yellow 1996 Suzuki Savage on Craigslist and we’ve been together ever since,” she explains.

Death Valley, California.


Although she had been eager to lay some roots in America, being laid off from her job meant she needed to figure out what to do next. “I was under no illusion that California was representative of the typical American lived experience. I wanted to know what it was like to live in the mountains of Colorado, the canyons of Utah, the ranches of Texas, the beaches of Miami, heck, even the cornfields of Nebraska had me curious! When I lost my job, it took me a while to see that it was as much of an opportunity as it was a loss. In fact, there’s something quite wonderful about the way life reminds you that you’re not actually in control of much. This was one of those moments where life had a different plan than I did, and the only thing I could control is how I reacted,” Nikki said.

After talking to her brother, with whom she had done a three-week motorcycle trip across Mongolia the year before, she realized she could finally explore the US. She wanted to keep off the beaten track, away from cities, people, and COVID-19. The plan was to stay solo, camp in national forests, and follow all local health advice including social distancing, wearing a mask and wearing gloves when pumping gas. “I hoped to visit all 48 contiguous states, but that would be dependent on the COVID-19 situation. I only go where I am welcome, and respect all local guidelines. Along the way, I’ll see if I could find a new place to call home,” Nikki says.

Expenses and Doubts 

“Found the perfect snug spot to set up camp just outside of Stanley [Ohio], falling asleep to the sound of the river and waking up to a view of the Sawtooth Mountains.” – Nikki.

To finance her motorcycle journey, Nikki is using some of her savings and the severance package she received after being laid off from AirBnB. “The combination of my savings, the severance package, and being able to immediately leave my apartment in San Francisco and therefore save on exorbitant rent payments allowed me to have enough money to finance my journey. My monthly road expenses are far cheaper than monthly expenses in San Francisco, which is due to the cheap and sometimes free cost of camping. I mostly buy my food from dollar general (or similar stores) and gas is less than $5 for a full tank!,” she explains.

Bonneville, Salt Flats.

For Nikki, the trip preparation felt therapeutic. She began reading other travelers’ blogs and watching YouTube videos, downloading packing lists, renting a storage unit, and getting some motorcycle maintenance advice from her mechanic. It took her a month to prepare for the trip, but when she was ready, she found she was feeling scared.

Nikki roaming Wyoming.

“Is this the stupidest thing you’ve ever done?,” I wondered. The answer was waiting for me out there on the road. I had an arbitrary leave date of June 10, and had deliberately declared this on my social media in an attempt to hold myself accountable to a deadline. I dithered, and worried and fretted. Then left on June 11,” Nikki says.

Facing Challenges 

Using paper maps for navigation, Nikki is staying on smaller backcountry roads and ends up on a gravel road every once in a while, although she says riding off-road is not on her agenda as the Suzuki Savage is not a dual sport motorcycle. She is focusing on scenic routes and small communities, interviewing people she meets on the road and producing videos from her trip on her YouTube channel. She is very happy with the bike, and says the experience has been incredible so far.

Sun Road, Montana.

“I feel like I’ve rediscovered parts of myself, built a whole new set of skills, and gotten a much broader and deeper perspective and understanding of this country. To touch on the more personal and introspective experience, it has shown me that I am capable of far more than I could have ever imagined. I’m able to problem solve under pressure, keep calm in difficult situations and focus on finding solutions. From bike issues, to losing valuable equipment, to social challenges, I’ve definitely been tested. But l have surprised myself with my resilience, and my ability to find the good in almost every situation,” Nikki says.

Bear Lake, Utah.

One of her toughest days was when she blew a rear tire in Yellowstone and had no service to call for help. Unable to change the tough road tire herself, Nikki tried to call for assistance using her Garmin InReach, but her insurance company was reluctant to help. Eventually, Nikki was forced to pay an exorbitant $600 for a 25-mile tow to the nearest town. This is where she found the ADV community online: she posted about her situation on the ADV Rider forum, and soon, a local adventure motorcyclist showed up to help. Jeff helped Nikki to change the tire and welcomed her to camp at his property. “Not only was I lucky enough to get to meet Jeff and his wife (who let me stay that night in their workshop), but I was introduced to a whole online community of people who have been cheering me on, which has been wonderful. I hope to be able to pay Jeff’s kindness & willingness to help forward,” Nikki said.

Lessons on the Road

For Nikki, this road trip had become a journey of self-discovery as much as it is a quest to discover the entire US. She says she had been blown away by the stunning beauty of the National Parks, the scenic roads, the friendly local communities, and most of all, by the people’s kindness and camaraderie.

“I’ve been invited to camp in people’s yards, been told about locals’ secret spots, been connected with people’s friends and family, been given gifts, gotten excellent route recommendations, linked up with fellow motocampers on the road, and had an incredible amount of support from the riding community, both on-road, and online,” Nikki says.

She believes traveling solo opens countless opportunities to meet the locals as well as the much-needed “helmet time” to reflect, rethink priorities, and discover what is truly important. While Nikki mentioned there has been the odd person who has said something a little off and left her feeling uncomfortable, she says she is very situationally aware and simply leaves whenever she feels something is off. In terms of bike maintenance, she is mostly looking after the Savage herself.

“Mechanically, the bike has been running great, but I was quite surprised to find out how difficult it is to find a mechanic while on the road for routine maintenance such as brake pads or a valve adjustment. Workshops either won’t work on the bike because it’s not a Harley, or they’re booked out until October. I’m told this is because of the covid-induced bike buying mania sweeping the nation,” Nikki observed.

According to her, for the most part, people are happy to see travelers even in time of the pandemic. “I have always found Americans to be exceptionally friendly, and that reputation has only been exacerbated on this trip. That being said, it does depend on my location. In states where the COVID-19cases are high, people are naturally a little stand-offish, as per regulations – and it is a sentiment I both understand, abide by and respect. But in some places, there is very little concern about COVID-19, which is in part because they have not been affected to the extent of some of the hot spots on the east and south coast,” she noticed.

Nikki admits she has a constant internal dialogue running in her head reminding her that this is not a normal trip, and unlike her previous travels where she would visit bars, go dancing, and stay in hostels, she is now careful to try to stick to camping, buy larger amounts of food to reduce her grocery runs, and when interacting with people, making sure she follows all the appropriate guidelines. “I do my very best to mitigate risk and I think by and large people recognize that as a solo motocamper, I’m probably one of the safest traveller demographics,” Nikki believes.

Follow Nikki’s adventure on Instagram and her YouTube channel.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte

Riding around the world extra slowly and not taking it too seriously, Egle is always on the lookout for interesting stories. Editor of the Women ADV Riders magazine, she focuses on ordinary people doing extraordinary things and hopes to bring travel inspiration to all two-wheeled maniacs out there.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte

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August 14, 2020 10:05 pm

God bless her doing it on a Suzuki Savage! When life gives you lemons…

August 15, 2020 12:09 am

Best wishes to her! Another great example that you don’t need a $25,000.00 motorcycle to have an adventure!

August 19, 2020 4:56 pm

Careful with the traffic in west Texas, it moves so fast and the police give out trophies instead of tickets.

August 23, 2020 11:09 am

good for Nikki! coming from Great Britain I found the heat and humidity of the Southern States very trying – without Air Con! But she has already found out what I found in Turkey – having a breakdown gets you to meet the nicest people! Bet she gets offered a new career on her trip as well

Heidi Roy
Heidi Roy
August 24, 2020 6:28 am

You go girl ! One must grab the adventures when they present themselves ! and may the wind be in your back in all aspects of your journey 🙂

August 24, 2020 7:50 pm
Reply to  Heidi Roy

Ride safe Ride free friend. That’s one adventure for Shure. No reservations and loose plans is how I roll and its the best way to travel. seek out the twisty’s and get your wind therapy.

Continued Travel or Short Rides? Motorcycle Road Trips ADV Rider
September 9, 2020 6:02 am

[…] still possible to keep on riding, especially if you camp a lot and stay off the beaten path, like this rider who lost her job due to COVID and set out on an indefinite motorcycle trip. For me, I’ve discovered a new way to explore the countries I’m slowly traveling […]

Gavin A Muldoon
Gavin A Muldoon
September 24, 2020 5:19 am

Hi Nikki,
came across your story when doing some “research” wow what a fantastic journey, I have done some of those roads places when in the US on business, however nothing like this!!
all the best & take care!


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