For 15 years Shawn Thomas has traveled the world as an official BMW tour guide and off-road riding instructor. His daughter Hailey has always been in love with motorcycles and inspired Thomas to combine his passion for riding with the joys of parenting. Father and daughter have shared several motorcycle adventures throughout the US, Central and South America.

Here’s a multi-part series on their latest adventure into the villages, beaches, and rainforests of Costa Rica.

Adventure Log Day 1: My Mistake

Location: Flight from San Francisco, California, to San José, Costa Rica, then riding to Manuel Antonio National Park.
Weather: Overcast, cold, and windy, then sunny, warmer, and humid.

I feel a little silly. I’ve been riding motorcycles with a young passenger for years now and take pride in knowing the ins and outs of traveling with a child. When someone asks for advice on the subject, I pretty much have a rehearsed speech, starting with “Don’t be in a hurry,” since kids will inevitably find some unforeseen distraction to eat up time. I know this, I preach it, and this morning I fell victim to it when Hailey suffered a pre-trip meltdown.

Costa Rica Map
Elephant Moto Details our daily rides through Costa Rica.Shawn Thomas

It was a total shock, since she has never before taken issue with our travels. But for whatever reason she had a level 7 panic attack right there at the airport. Hailey has moved solidly in to her preteen years, and I’ve noticed that her once-steady persona has taken on a roller-coaster quality. She was homesick, she missed her mommy, and couldn’t bear to be away for a week. She wanted to go home.

We talked it out, but it took a while. So long in fact that we almost missed our flight. We climbed on our plane to Costa Rica with only minutes to spare, leaving no time for breakfast (or more importantly, coffee). Once on the plane though, she relaxed and wondered aloud what her problem had been.

father daughter pose
A quick father/daughter pose before our trip begins.Shawn Thomas

“That was weird,” she said. “If I ever have a meltdown like that again, remind me of this moment.” Somehow I don’t think that will work.

After about nine hours we landed in San José, Costa Rica, and were ushered by taxi to the center of town. The roads are narrower here than in the States, and drivers are far more aggressive. Stop signs and lane markers are obeyed in the center of town but are pretty much optional around the outskirts. I reminded myself that being a vigilant motorcyclist here is not just a suggestion, it’s a must.

homemade empanadas
Fresh (and spicy!) homemade empanadas, courtesy of a backcountry cafe.Shawn Thomas

We got a short break, then met with our tour guides at Elephant Moto Costa Rica. Hailey and I were introduced to our bike for the week, a sparkly new 2017 BMW R1200GS. We took some time to load our gear, a tight fit when traveling for two for six days.

The riding day was short. We left town and cruised along a string of dirt and asphalt roads, beginning in the mountains and heading toward the Pacific Ocean. Pretty much everything here feels like rain forest; the foliage is intensely thick and lush. Along the way we stopped for coffee and empanadas at a local café (the coffee is insanely good, as one might expect).

mountaintop rest stop
It was too hot to move at this quick mountaintop rest stop.Shawn Thomas

The highlight of the day was a water crossing. We came upon a huge river, about 200 yards wide. The bridge had been taken out during the rainy season, leaving only a few gnarled hunks of steel jutting from the sand. We rode north along the river until we found a suitable crossing point. In the distance a passenger car lay entrenched in the water, its owner standing by the trunk in a posture of defeat. We went through the crossing; the water was so deep at places it splashed over my windscreen and onto my lap (luckily it was warm).

We were feeling pretty good about our amphibious riding skills, but that changed when we came closer to the car and driver. Turns out he wasn’t stuck; he had intentionally driven his Toyota Corolla into the crossing and was washing it with buckets of river water! Suddenly our adventure skills didn’t seem so impressive.

We ended the day at a beachfront hotel, but it was late and our waterfront views were obscured by the dark. We had dinner at a really cool restaurant built around an old C-123 Fairchild cargo plane. We’ve been assured that tomorrow will be another day full of epic adventure. Looking forward to it!