How many times have you promised yourself to leave everything and set off? Maybe by living out in a VW van or on the back of your motorcycle. Traveling around the world for months and stopping only to climb mountains and to rest.

That’s what James Barkman, photographer, climber, surfer, and rider has been doing for five years!

James lives his life on his 1976 VW van, doing what he loves by pursuing his passions. And if you think this is already a big deal, it’s because you don’t know yet what he made riding on a late ’90s Suzuki DR650:

“The most demanding experience of my life… a beautiful nightmare!” (Barkman, Iron and Air)

It was a dream that James and two of his childhood friends, Jeremy and Allen, shared since they were kids. Coming across the Americas through a road trip.

“The Pan-American Highway is the longest, arguably the most epic, system of roads on Earth.” (Barkman, Iron and Air)

Years later, those kids grown in rural Pennsylvania were then ready to make that crazy journey reality! From the cold and nearly desert town of Deadhorse, in Alaska, a few miles from the Arctic Circle to the warm and southernmost city of South America, Ushuaia, in Argentina. But that’s not all: the road trip would have been accompanied by rock climbing along the way. The challenge was so traveling in the lightest way possible while carring all the necessary gear for climbing and staying on the road for over one year.

Obviously, before starting, James had some concerns:

“Leading up to the beginning of our trip, intensity levels were at an all-time high. In addition to the demand of physical training and general preparation, … I had just returned from a project in Afghanistan, dealt with a winter of mechanical woes…. and watched my life savings slip away on climbing equipment and moto upgrades. I’ve learned that real adventures don’t come easy. As a friend of mine once put it, “That’s what makes it an adventure and not a vacation!” (Barkman, Fieldmag)

“The possibility of injuries, breakdowns, and failures was intimidating but also exciting. The mystery of the unknown and the open road ahead was invigorating.” (Barkman, Revitsport)

The trip began in the spring of 2017, the same day that Allen graduated from college. After saying goodbye to their families and friends, they started a 4,300-mile ride to North. First step: Alaska. The three guys had to face carburetor issues, bad weather, and even a breakdown to Allen’s bike. A little bit of luck came with a passerby who gave him a 400-mile lift. They finally came to Talkeetna. A ski plane brought the guys to Denali, the tallest mountain in North America.

Seventeen months and 38,000 miles later (about 61,000 kilometers), unforgettable adventures and misadventures were fully lived by the three guys.

Among the most memorable landscapes we want to remember:

  • Mount Hood, Oregon
  • Nevada Desert
  • Mount Whitney, California
  • Joshua Tree National Park, California
  • Baja Peninsula, Mexico
  • Pico de Orizaba, Mexico
  • Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
  • Andes, South America

“I don’t want to live inside the confinements of comfort, and I’m thankful for the places that my motorcycle has taken me, both physically and mentally. I want to live a story worth telling, one mile at a time.” (Barkman, Goalzero)

And you? Are you still willing to leave everything and set off?

All photo credits and quotes to: James Barkman

Keep dreaming

Looking for the Shangri-La