Riding the length of the Americas by motorcycle

Wanaka couple Andi and Ellen Delis are planning to ride their motorcycles from Alaska to...
Wanaka couple Andi and Ellen Delis are planning to ride their motorcycles from Alaska to Argentina. Photo by Marjorie Cook
Wanaka husband and wife Andi and Ellen Delis are about to turn their dream into a reality, writes Marjorie Cook.

In any couch surfer's life, there comes a time for putting words into action.

And with the years slipping by as speedily as smooth tequila, Wanaka husband and wife Andi (45) and Ellen (43) Delis have decided now is the time for adventure.

On May 4, after saving for three years, the couple will begin a motorcycle trip from Alaska to Argentina, a ride which might take up to two years.

Mr Delis, a self-employed Wanaka quantity surveyor, has relinquished his role as president of the Wanaka Motorcycle Club and Mrs Delis is leaving her job as an accountant with the Wanaka branch of WHK.

They have found tenants for their house and two Suzuki DR650s await them at Anchorage, Alaska.

"I am aware that in later years it is going to be more difficult [to travel]. And I'm not getting any younger," Mr Delis says.

When Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara travelled the continent, he rode "The Mighty One", a Norton 500 single-cylinder motorbike, which suffered terminal mechanical failures before the end of his journey.

The Delis' have chosen the Suzuki DR650 single-cylinder model because it is 150cc bigger than "The Mighty One" and more suitable to back roads.

Classed as an "adventure bike", it fits in between a trail bike and a road bike "thus it is very suitable for riding over back roads, and it is a 650cc air/oil-cooled engine, producing a lazy 43hp", Mr Delis says.

"The low-stress, low-compression engine does massive, reliable mileage because of this. One bike, which was on a round-the-world trip, has completed over 200,000 miles (320,000km) without being pulled down for repairs."

There's one catch - the seat is not known for comfort.

However, the couple have been given two comfortable aftermarket replacement seats.

Mr Delis has long dreamed of a pan-American motorcycle trip but it wasn't until his Beijing-born wife agreed to go with him that the dream became a reality.

Initially, Mrs Delis planned to ride two-up behind her husband for parts of the trip but she has been convinced to get her own licence and ride her own bike.

Mrs Delis began adventuring 15 years ago when she still lived in Beijing and adventuring was regarded as "crazy".

She joined a club of skiers, climbers, divers and paragliders and has continued her outdoor pursuits since moving to New Zealand 12 years ago.

"Back to my day, everybody thought adventure was crazy but now it is not. It is just popular. It is the fashion," Mrs Delis said.

The Delis have welcomed travellers from all over the world through the couch-surfing network and some of their guests have had similar adventures.

Wives of other motorcycling couples were particularly enthusiastic for Mrs Delis to ride rather than catch up with her husband from time to time.

Mrs Delis was scared the first time she rode a motorcycle but now feels more relaxed.

"It is not like my pushbike which is so easy to manoeuevre.

"If you fall, there's no way I could pick it up. It is scary. But I learned two pieces of very good advice that I will take with me for ever. Using a little throttle more than normal will usually take you out of trouble. I have always been on the slow side so I know I will generally have a little more throttle. That is very valuable for me and I think for other lady riders it will be the same."

"The couple have spent months reviewing their equipment and refining their gear lists.

"We have done right down to how many Panadol we take. We have learned a lot from internet forums. And I do have 33 years of motorbike experience," Mr Delis said.

Mr Delis has made luggage racks for the bikes and each will carry two 32-litre plastic boxes and one top case.

They intend taking just three sets of merino clothing with them, because the fabric is warm, easy to wash and dry, light and wearable in temperature extremes of 45degC to -10degC.

"It is gear that is plain and tidy, smart and simple but industrial," Mr Delis said.

They will also carry camping equipment, toolkits and communications equipment, including a cellphone, a Spot GPS tracker and Garmin GPS navigation devices.

They have been conscientious about selecting light gear, for example titanium knives and forks.

"The challenge has been finding things that can perform two if not three other functions," Mr Delis said.

Their route begins at Anchorage and heads up to Dead Horse, Dawson, Inuvik and the Arctic Sea, before turning south and heading towards Ecuador and Bolivia.

They aim to get to Ushuaia in southern Argentina before the end of February 2013. Any later, and they would be likely to encounter heavy snow and would need tyre chains.

The only place the couple have committed to going to is Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada, where they will attend the Dust to Dawson gathering.

"We don't want to have commitments to must-have times. If we've got no rules, there's no rules to break . . .

"It is a turning point in our lives. We are hopeful we will still think that at the end, assuming we are alive. And the whole trip is built on that assumption we will survive. We are planning the next one already. I want to go to Iceland," Mr Delis said.




•  Buying motorcycles in the US is cheaper than shipping them from New Zealand. Mr and Mrs Delis spent $7600 ($US5800) each on a bike.

• Budget (per day per person in $US): $60 in North America; $40 in Central America; $30 in South America.

• Preparation: They have spent almost $30,000 on gear, airline tickets, shots, immunisation, fees, taxes, insurance, and shipping.

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