When you spend most of your time on the road, the question "How's the trip been?" is always a funny one. In general, even bad days on a motorcycle are better than days stuck in mediocrity, unless those bad days end or incapacitate you (a realistic risk).

Riding thousands of miles in all kinds of weather for months on end leaves riding motorcycles feeling less like an activity and more of a way of life. Here in South America on an Indian Scout Sixty, I've faced challenges that I haven't before, such as landslides, being stopped on the road by people with guns asking for money, navigating the Andean mountains in the dark, countless river crossings, and taking roads that my bike was never meant for. I've also seen some of the most beautiful scenes—moments on the landscape that move my spirit in ways I've never quite experienced before.

This is the best possible road situation after a landslide; often there is just a track over the pile.
This is the best possible road situation after a landslide; often there is just a track over the pile.Janelle Kaz

It always makes me laugh when people ask how my time on the road has been, because there is no single answer. The journey has been everything: incredible, breathtaking, fun, scary, terrible, painful, joyful.

A track through the jungle wouldn’t be complete without some slick mud.
A track through the jungle wouldn’t be complete without some slick mud.Janelle Kaz

The gamut of emotions and states of mind have been run. Perhaps this entourage of states of existing— particularly when one is riding solo and moving forward, persisting—leads us to the notion of character building. This actually seems like a good response to the question “How was your time on the road?”

“Character building.”

A 2019 Indian Scout Sixty with a few Roland Sands Design modifications—not the conventional bike you’d take on these jungle roads.
A 2019 Indian Scout Sixty with a few Roland Sands Design modifications—not the conventional bike you’d take on these jungle roads.Janelle Kaz

Roads requiring mental and physical endurance to a degree that strengthens or improves a person's character can certainly be found in the mountains of Peru. Take, for instance, the track from Villa Rica to Pucallpa in the central part of the country. This is a dirt road which snakes over jungle mountains, connecting the lowland Amazon basin with the tropical Andes. Indicated as a main road on the map, I had no idea what I was in store for, and if I did, I most likely would have not ventured down it on my Scout Sixty.

The road ascended while significantly decreasing in quality and then turned to rutted dirt. There was a road construction stop and all eyes were on me when I rolled up. I just stared back at the men standing outside of their trucks and eventually waved, acknowledging their gazes. After some time, one man walked over to me to ask about the bike. That seemed to give the others the green light they needed to do the same, so I was soon surrounded by six men. All the questions were there: Where are you from? Where did you ride from? Alone? How big is the engine? How much does this bike cost? Where are you going?

A construction roadblock on the road heading toward Pucallpa from Villa Rica.
A construction roadblock on the road heading toward Pucallpa from Villa Rica.Janelle Kaz
Most Peruvians have never seen an Indian motorcycle; I am certainly a strange sight to behold in the middle of nowhere.
Most Peruvians have never seen an Indian motorcycle; I am certainly a strange sight to behold in the middle of nowhere.Janelle Kaz

I told them I was going to Pucallpa, even though my plan was to bypass Pucallpa and go straight to the smaller town of Aguaytía.

One of them told me that after the bridge, the road would get much better.

Even though the road had just started getting bad, that was good news. I was thankful for the information, albeit a bit intimidated by the awareness that they all now know about me riding solo on an expensive bike out here in the mountainous jungle. As a woman alone, this can be a bit nerve-wracking at times, but there are two things that I reminded myself of: If a bike like mine pulled up in the middle of nowhere, I’d want to know more about it, too; and, secondly, if something on the road happens and I need help, it is likely I will turn to one of these men for assistance.

The challenges that come along with riding a bike like this on roads such as these is a part of the adventure.
The challenges that come along with riding a bike like this on roads such as these is a part of the adventure.Janelle Kaz

What came next was a grueling six hours on something that was more potholes, large rocks, and mud than anything else. Sometimes the fork would slam down hard, other times, when the road was pocketed as if it had been bombed from above, there was nothing I could do to keep the engine coming from down on the lip between the adjacent potholes. I had to go very slowly.

Traveling 100 kilometers in five hours was not the most fun I’ve had on this bike.
Traveling 100 kilometers in five hours was not the most fun I’ve had on this bike.Janelle Kaz

It was awful. I’d like to say I took it gracefully and even had fun, but honestly, I was yelling profanities loudly. The road was bumpy and rutted; my bike certainly was not made for it. There were also long stretches of slick mud through landslides where the bike would get squirrelly, while feeling like I was being cooked in the sun and humidity. Duck-paddling my way through, I traveled a mere 100 kilometers in the first five hours, intensely longing to twist the throttle and exceed first and second gear.

This was taken early on; you can see that I still have my thermos attached and my Giant Loop bag is mostly horizontal.
This was taken early on; you can see that I still have my thermos attached and my Giant Loop bag is mostly horizontal.Janelle Kaz

It is a humbling experience to have no one to blame but yourself. Riding solo means you make the choices, you are a victim to no one. I could think of a bunch of things that would have made the situation worse, but at the moment, trying to feel grateful felt like grasping handfuls of sand.

What character do we build through our moments of suffering? In the words of author and mythologist, Joseph Campbell, “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” Although it doesn’t seem so while we’re in the thick of it—on a long, challenging road in the middle of the jungle on a heavy, low bike for example—suffering can be a gift which shows us what we’re capable of. In my own experience, suffering has transformed me into a more adaptable, more accepting, better version of myself. Suffering has reminded me that life and its moments are fleeting, and therefore valuable.

Incredible to imagine what this road must be like in the rainy season.
Incredible to imagine what this road must be like in the rainy season.Janelle Kaz

Overall, I chose to come here, with the full knowledge and understanding that touring South America on an Indian Scout Sixty alone may not always be easy. I could have even taken the Pan-American Highway and skipped the lesser-traveled mountains all together, but I accepted that the challenges would be part of the adventure.

Finally the road is becoming smooth; you can see how crooked my bag is and that I lost my thermos.
Finally the road is becoming smooth; you can see how crooked my bag is and that I lost my thermos.Janelle Kaz

Would I take my Indian Scout Sixty down this same road again? Definitely not. But I’d like to think that that is because suffering, in addition to building character, has also made me more wise.

Regardless of your exact response to the question “How was your trip?” you end up with some pretty epic stories to share and some gratitude for being around to tell them.