Motorcycling the Pan American Highway’s Jungle Gap
by Ed Culberson
Whitehorse Press, 1991
by Kelly Haug
Imagine a network of highways stretching from Alaska to Argentina, a road system connecting 18 countries, two continents and consisting of over 46,000 miles of pavement and dirt. Now imagine riding your bike on this highway and discovering that the route stops dead in the middle of the jungle.
Ed Culberson’s book about motorcycling the entire length of the Pan American Highway, even the part where there is no road, is much more than the average travel narrative. It is, rather, an intimate look into the mind of a man whose obsession to achieve his dream brings him close death, and even closer to enlightenment.
Culberson’s obsession lies on the border between eastern Panama and western Colombia. The Darien Gap, an area of thick jungles, impenetrable swamps, and impassable topography, is an 80-mile break in the roadway connecting the northern and southern hemisphere. The local Indians call it “the Stopper”, for it has long been an obstacle for travelers seeking an overland route to South America. In his book, the author shares his passion for motorcycling and his fascination with the Pan American Highway; the result is a long journey full of triumphs and failures, and personal endurance.
Riding a BMW R80 christened “Amigo”, Culberson finds himself in adventure at every turn. Everything from hostile natives and torrential weather to flaky traveling companions and crooked border officials impedes his progress across the Darien. Most of the time this book reads like a journal as Culberson confides in the reader his uncertainties about the journey and also about the negative affect his obsession has had on his personal life.
Obsessions Die Hard is the story of a man faced with a challenge he cannot turn away from, but it is also an education of what it means to truly have an obsession for something. An inspiring and unbelievable book by a very humble and elegant writer, this is a must read for anyone interested in the sport of motorcycling and the perseverance of the human soul.