Pan American Trails | Part 1

The story of a solo tour over some of the world’s worst roads. A trip from St. Louis to Managuz in Nicaragua…

By Jose Porta, Photography by Jose Porta

From the July 1935 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine

It was on the eighth day of May, nineteen hundred and thirty that a lone motorcycle rider brought his machine to a stop in front of the City Hall in Saint Louis, Missouri. A clock struck ten as he climbed the steps that led him into the office of the Mayor of the City.

A few minutes later he came out again and walked towards his motorcycle. By that time a group of curiosity seekers had gathered around the machine and a lot of conjecturing and whispering was going on among them, as the motorcycle was unlike any other seen on the road.

At first glance it could be seen that it was built for travel, especially for rough and arduous travel. It was stripped of all unnecessary equipment. The lights, mudguards, battery and generator had been removed. The gas tank was extremely large, having the capacity of five gallons of fuel. In front of the handlebars a special bracket had been built to support an extra can holding three gallons of gasoline.

The rear of the machine was carrying the heaviest load; two saddle bags were astride the rear wheel and a heavy bundle was strongly tied to the luggage carrier. To complete the outfit and probably to more stimulate the curiosity of the onlookers a .22 caliber rifle was securely tied against the front fork, thus giving the finishing touch to an already overloaded machine.

Without a word the young rider sat astride his machine and with a quick jerk of his right leg he sent a spark of life into the powerful motor. A twist of the throttle and he was gone.

Who the rider was the crowd knew not. Where he was headed for they didn’t know. To them he was just another young man starting out on the royal road to adventure.

And in truth I was young then and spring had come and like most young men the traveling fever had got the best of me. I wanted to go places to see the world. The United States wasn’t big enough for me any longer, having seen most of it from the saddle of a motorcycle during several trips that lasted from one week to two months. I wanted to see foreign lands and Mexico and Central and South America had always held a special fascination for my easily impressed imagination.

Leaving Saint Louis behind me I headed south with a light heart and a happy frame of mind. I had not a worry in the world to bother me. I was master of my own actions and all my belongings were with me and I could go where I pleased and stop when and where I wanted.

I had gone to the City Hall to have the Mayor sign me off as I intended to keep a record of every town or village I was to go thru.

My trip to the Mexican border was uneventful, I spent the first night at Poplar Bluff where I told the Hotel keeper I was going to South America. As a rule, in order not to cause too much commotion I was telling everybody that I was headed towards Los Angeles. But now that the secret came out I suddenly became a public figure. A reporter was sent from the local newspaper and as a result of his article when I left at dawn a large number of people were lined up in Main Street to see me off.

The whole thing meant nothing to them but just the same it made me feel better and my enthusiasm increased.

My enthusiasm died off soon enough though, as the sky clouded, perhaps in mute protest against my conceited thoughts, and a torrential downpour washed the road, ahead of me.

There I was on my second day out, caught in the rain already. But what’s a little rain for a man who was to go thru those terrific hurricanes of tropical countries, those slimy and tricky swamps of Central America?

Calmly sitting on my saddle, with poise and dignity, I let it pour. That was on the paved road. A few hours later I struck mud. The pavement had ended and I was to go thru eight miles of dirt road. Here it was altogether a different story. My poise and dignity were turned into the most clowning efforts at keeping my balance. I kept picking up that motorcycle as fast as it went down. I began to wonder if they had any rain in Mexico. Did I really want to go to those tropical countries where they had those terrific hurricanes and those slimy and tricky swamps?

A fellow motorist came rushing by on a flivver.

“Where are you going, partner?” he shouted at me.

“To California,” I hollered back as I took another flop.

By Jose Porta
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