Interview: Notiers Frontiers
10 Questions to Adventure Motorcyclists1 November 2019
I came across Tim and Marisa from Notiers Frontiers on instagram many months ago and I was immediately intrigued by their adventures. I finally had the opportunity to ask them my 10 burning questions - here they are!
Can you tell me a little bit about yourselves and your amazing journey so far?
Tim: Marisa and I both grew up just outside of Chicago Illinois, we briefly dated during high school, split up for ten years, and then reunited in our adult lives. Well, Marisa was an adult at least, I was still shaking some of the bad habits from when we dated in high school.
But now as a permanent team of two, we left Chicago in August of 2017 and spent the next 20 months on the road as we traveled down to Ushuaia. While making figure eights as we rode down, we probably added an additional 5k miles to the overall length of the trip.
Marisa: I find it interesting that Tim and I ended up doing this trip together since we both come from very different standpoints which have somehow merged into this singular incredible journey. I traveled a lot in my twenties and really got bit by the travel bug, but all of it was backpacking. I never had any interest in motorcycles, I couldn't even ride a bicycle (and still can't). In fact, I was scared of motorcycles, but Tim was a bit of the opposite.
He loved them, but had never traveled very far from where we grew up. So when our lives joined back together again, I guess I could say that we both inspired each other: I inspired him to travel, and he inspired me to get on the back of his motorcycle. And it's grown into this unbelievable adventure of a lifetime, a journey across the world on a motorcycle.
Why did you choose the KTM 1190 Adventure bike for this adventure?
Tim: Like any great legendary object, it chose us, along with our financial budget. I did test ride the 1200GSA, and it sure was comfortable, but it was around ten thousand dollars more of an investment. Plus, without luggage or a second passenger, the KTM shoots off like a rocket down paved roads with only a small twist of the throttle. At the same time, it was able to absorb the potholes and gutters while riding two up and fully loaded down gravel paths.
I like to say that KTM was born in the dirt, raised by wild and senseless riders who cut through single tracks on mountainside cliffs and raced across deserts, whereas BMW was born out of luxury, but eventually found its way to the dirt and mud that we all like to play in. Don't get me wrong, both bikes and many others are all great choices, but the mighty KTM has not let us down after years of abuse.
Did you have any serious bike breakdowns along the way? If yes, how did you solve it?
Tim: Just as we were exiting Ecuador and entering Peru via a less common border crossing south of Vilcabamba, the bike's rear began to bob up and down like a teeter-totter. As Marisa got off, the bike rose six inches as I sat there bouncing around. I got off and immediately noticed that our monoshock was broken. The large spring of the shock had collapsed in onto itself due to the support piston that had snapped like a pencil.
With not a lot of options, we rode down to the next town and loaded the bike into the back of a pickup truck who agreed to take us all the way back to Cuenca where the nearest KTM shop was. The cost of the 9-hour tow was roughly $160 bucks, a price I would have happily paid if doubled.
Once in Cuenca, the local KTM dealer ordered the new part and it arrived in less than a week. When we went to make the payment for parts and services, we were only charged the dealer's cost of the monoshock and nothing more. The service manager stated that he only wished for us to continue on without stress and to remember them as we continue our journey.
Try getting that response from any dealership in the States, and we got free hats! So, a heads up, if you break down anywhere in South America, hope you are near the friendly staff of KTM in Cuenca, Ecuador.
Marisa: There was another time that we decided to cross the Bolivian Salt Flats while they were wet. We knew there was a risk involved since that super saturated salt water can get into every nook and cranny on the bike and wreak havoc, but the mirror effect of the salt flats with just an inch of water on them was what drew us to it. And it was so surreal riding through what felt like clouds that I would say it was worth it.
But we did end up damaging the bike's kickstand sensor which rendered us immobile the next day. We had to get the bike towed back to Uyuni, the nearest town, and thanks to some research Tim did on the internet, and the help of some really great motorcycle traveling friends, we were able to make a bypass for the kickstand and continue on our journey.
What was the most memorable experience during your travels in South America?
Marisa: I wouldn't call this a great story, since it involves a terrible accident, but it was certainly my most memorable experience of the trip: it was the time I hurt my foot in a fall. We were in Central Peru, and we were coming around a turn in a gravel road that had a concrete spillway in the corner of the turn. Normally these don't pose any problems, and the water is usually only an inch or two deep, but this one must have had some algae growing just beneath the surface that made it as slick as oil.
When we hit it, the back tire slipped out from under us, and we slid about 10 feet before coming to a stop. Unfortunately, I must have been riding with my right toe sticking out, because the ground caught my boot and twisted my foot out so that it ended up facing in the opposite direction. I knew immediately that I was hurt, and when I got myself out from under the bike, I found that I couldn't stand or put any weight on my foot without immediately collapsing.
We were far from any civilization, so we camped overnight, and I spent the night awake and in pain. I took a lot of pain killers, but still couldn't sleep, and wondered if I had broken anything. The next day we found a small hospital with an x-ray machine, but they couldn't tell me whether anything was broken or not. So we went to a bigger town, Huaraz, and got more x-rays done there, and luckily the doctor confirmed that nothing was broken. He instructed me to stay off my foot entirely for a month or two and got me a pair of crutches.
So I was extremely lucky that nothing was broken, but I had completely torn the muscle that runs along the bottom of my foot. I stayed bedridden in Huaraz for 3 weeks, which was very hard for me since it was the first time in my life that I was injured and couldn't do basic things for myself. Thankfully I had Tim to help out with everything, and my appreciation for our partnership as a traveling team really solidified during those weeks.
Once I was feeling well enough, I simply jumped onto the back of the bike (more like slowly climbed) and continued our adventures in Peru. We strapped the crutches onto the front of the bike, and went into the wilds of the Central Peru Huascarán area, loving every moment of it. And some of those pictures with the bike and the crutches on the front turned out to be our favorites.
Was there ever a situation where you thought: now we are in serious trouble!
Tim: There was a mountain pass that we took with our friends Kira and Brendon of the Adventure Haks. About halfway through the Peruvian pass between Rapaz and Viscas, we hit miles upon miles of mud that just caked up the front tire to the point that it was a dead limb. The rear tire just spun like a racing slick trying to make traction on petroleum jelly. It was awful to say the least. I had dropped the bike three or four times and was running out of energy as we barely progressed through the deep mud.
I suggested that we all pitch in and invest in some property from a local herder. Maybe we could afford two or three acres with the amount of Peruvian Soles we collectively had on us. I imagined me raising sheep and cows, building a small wooden shack to live in, and eventually raising a child with Marisa, all right there on that very plot of land that so many years ago we got stuck at. But, no one else bought into my vision and insisted that we push forward. What our lives could have been will never be known.
Marisa: We did end up getting through that insane mud pit. It was a particularly bad situation because we were over 14,000 feet high (4,300 meters) in the mountains, we didn't have enough gas to turn around and go back, and the sun was setting. It was cold and raining with an ever-present bone-chilling mist, and we almost just called it quits for the night and set up camp. No one but Tim felt like calling it a permanent residence, but with enough perseverance we got through the worst of it.
Kira and I walked quite a bit of the ways down the mountain whereas the boys were doing their best navigating the bikes through the slip n' slide, and eventually the mud became solid enough for us to hop back on. We didn't arrive at the next village until it was well into the night, and they did have a “hotel” with one disgusting toilet for everyone that didn't flush, but it didn't matter to us. We were just happy to be there.
As a solo traveler I imagine it to be great to ‘share the workload' of the constant packing, planning and arranging of logistics. Do you divide your tasks, or do you handle everything together?
Tim: We used to tackle everything as a team but that changed pretty quickly. I have a particular way that I like the bike to be packed so that the weight is evenly distributed, and in case we fall, nothing will get too badly smashed (we use soft panniers). Marisa likes things to be neatly arranged so that everything has a particular place and a permanent home. So, it works out that while I unload the bike, she starts to set up camp and vice versa.
We travel pretty loosely, and never know exactly where we will be two days in advance, sometimes not knowing where we will be the next day. But, we do plot options along the route just in case the day's ride took longer than expected, or just want to stop for the day.
Marisa: I think having a good division of labor is important for us to work most efficiently together since we both have our strengths. This applies not just for packing, but also Tim is obviously the person who has to ride the bike and get us to places, but I try to pick up the slack in other ways, such as by translating, doing research, or giving him a break by setting up camp once we get to our destination.
What are your top 5 items that you think are crucial for a round-the-world trip by motorcycle?
Tim: I think everyone should have a fake wallet with just a little bit of currency and expired credit cards and IDs. We have never been robbed, but if we ever do, I will be handing over anything they ask for, it's just not worth it to put up a fight. I have a wallet that has about a day's worth of money with an assortment of expired cards along with 'filler' material like hotel business cards, restaurant cards, and anything that just makes it look official.
I also love my foldable chair that I would never leave behind. I would strongly suggest if you bring a laptop, be sure that it has a SSD (Solid State Drive). If not, all of the bouncing around down small gravel roads will surely destroy your computer and all of your files and pictures will be nothing but a series of unrecoverable zeros and ones. This also goes for external hard drives which should always be SSD.
We also use an extension cord with 3 plugs at the end every time we stay at a hotel, hostel, or even campgrounds with an electrical outlet. The extension cord allows us to only need a single plug adapter, and also gave us six more feet of flexibility behind beds, or from the only outlet hidden behind furniture.
Marisa: I have just discovered something called solid shampoo, which is a bar of shampoo that lathers just like liquid shampoo does, but it's a fraction of the size and weight. It also lasts longer than a bottle of shampoo does.
I think some sort of tuperware for food storage is important to have with you, so that any leftovers can be brought on the bike for later. And of course, having a proper water filter with you is essential in countries where tap water is not the cleanest. For Africa, we're bringing two: a gravity filter and a smaller Steripen which uses UV light to kill any bacteria that remains after we fill up our water bottles with the tap.
Which resources (websites, apps) do you use most for finding routes, accommodation or other motorcycle related information?
Tim: iOverlander is the overlander's Bible. If you don't have it, you must download it. If you do have it and use it, please update it for the next traveler behind you. It is an open source app that can be useful in every situation you find yourself in, but it is only as good as the collective community makes it. As a stand-alone app, it is our most valuable tool.
Along with iOverlander, we use offline Google Maps to find, and then get anywhere we need to. Sometimes Google Maps can be a pain because you have to update the maps every 30 days, so we have OSMand as well as Maps.me as a backup. Both Maps.me and OSMand are a onetime download and you can even import the POI from iOverlander directly into them so they are nearly as useful offline.
When can we expect your adventures in Africa to begin and can you tell us what your plans are for Africa?
Marisa: We have just arrived in Cape Town, South Africa! And at the time of writing, we expect to get our bike flown in tomorrow. After we repack the bike we will head off to see meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, along with some incredible mountain vistas that South Africa has to offer.
From South Africa we plan on going to Namibia, Botswana, then through Zambia to Tanzania and Kenya. We may stop by Rwanda and Uganda before heading into Ethiopia. From there we're hoping to get a visa to cross Sudan into Egypt and then ferry over to Europe. It sounds so easy when I write it out like that, but I have the feeling that this journey will be just as challenging as it is rewarding.
If you want to know where we are on any given day, check out our “Where We Are Now” page on our website.
You wrote several books and are active on social media. Where can we find (buy!) your books and follow your journey?
Tim: Maiden Voyage explains the inspiration behind the madness, introduces who Marisa and I are, and follows us along as we travel through the States in preparation for the trip we are currently on. I am near the end of my second book that will cover the trip from Chicago to Panama, and Marisa has written a Road Guide through Peru that is the first of many of our travel guides for overlanders.
All of our current books will be listed here on our website. We would love for you to follow us along at: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/notiersfrontiers Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/timnotier/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/TimNotier