How We Survived Each Other

Text: Lisa Morris • Photography: Jason Spafford

The grueling satisfaction of long days, side by side on motorcycles, can make or break a relationship. Life together on bikes is an extraordinary adventure, packed with more highs than lows. Every time I ride with my partner, Jason, I love him more—even on the days I loathe him. He and I are five years into a two-wheeled story that’s still unfolding.

“Hi, I’m Jason,” said the man with a defined body. When I met him on a scuba excursion in Egypt in 2000, I was 19 years old. He was 31, and I did everything I could to impress him. It wasn’t until the last day of our trip—when he hit me with his four-wheeler in the Hurghada Desert, breaking three of my ribs and puncturing a lung—that he gave me the attention I’d wanted. Getting run over by a guy is the greatest reason to stay in touch.

We never defined success by our income or ZIP code, and neither of us seemed cut out for domesticity, so we decided to live on the road. We didn’t have children and weren’t married, so why not take an 18-month, 80,000-mile trip through 21 countries in the Americas? I bought Pearl—a factory-lowered ‘01 BMW F 650 GS—because I liked the color. It matched my helmet, much to Jason’s exasperation. Amusingly, Jason used my bike as our pack mule and saved his ’08 BMW F 800 GS for “tech”—a camera, its lenses, and a drone. “If I want to be better wife material, this is how I do it,” I thought as we rode onto the container ship destined for Uruguay.

Jason was the mechanic and guide. He brought me coffee every morning and picked up my fully laden bike after I crashed. He applauded every time I showed independence and spatial awareness, and I made him laugh, complimented him when he needed confidence, and corrected his hilarious spelling and grammar.

Constant companionship is the best and worst thing about long-distance motorcycle travel. Even though you love your partner, there’s only one person to listen to your frustrations, which typically involve them. I’d be rich if I got a dollar for every time I swallowed the words: “Come on, Captain Slow, give it some beans!” Thankfully, we’re not grudge-bearers, but heaven forbid one of us got hangry. Our winning strategy boiled down to this: don’t nag the guy. Sometimes he wore the pants, sometimes I did. 

 

The Pep Talk I Needed

We were in Argentina, en route to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, riding 145 miles along a sandy mountain pass on the border between the two countries. I envied how effortlessly Jason traversed the soft trail. I arrived at the Chile border broken; I dismounted slowly, like I was lowering myself into an ice bath. That night, Jason sat me down and said I was a liability and my riding style was putting us at unnecessary risk. Tears streamed down my cheeks. The repercussions of my slow, tortured riding through a remote region became clear to me: provisions ran dry, bikes overheated, daylight ran out.

I awoke after a fitful night’s sleep, ready to not make the same mistakes again. I opened Pearl’s throttle further, feeling far less strained and more in control. I started having fun, and soon Jason was asking me to slow down as he couldn’t keep up. What had been a vexing route at first became velvety smooth on our way back. I’d never ridden that aggressively before. As I bounced over loose rocks, I whooped and yipped. “You’re riding like a pro today, I’m impressed,” said Jason. I’ve heard those words only a handful of times. Rough roads, tedious traffic patrol, and occasional roadblocks notwithstanding, the stars and universe sometimes do align.

By the time we reached Prudhoe Bay, Alaska’s most northern navigable road, I’d given up on Pearl in favor of Mr. Jangles, the Suzuki DR650 I bought on the road. I never gave up on Jason, though. We endured off-road pains together, and I now have a terrific fondness for him. In truth, parts of the trip were painstaking for me; I often refused to trust Jason’s advice, leading to a lot of discomfort, but never once did I worry about us.

 

Sometimes My Opponent—Always My Best Friend 

We were changed by riding through the Americas. During our trip, I decided against having children, which surprised the heck out of Jason. We want to see where an unscripted future takes us. After 16 years, though, I got tired of waiting for him to propose. During the leap year of 2016, while watching gray whales in Mexico, I popped the question. He said yes.

Our biographies are so intertwined that we share nearly every page. Our partnership has gone the distance and is here to stay. Neither of us can wait to remember what it’s like to miss each other. Being in each other’s company as often as we are borders on unhealthy, but riding alone is as fun as a funeral.

We’ve fallen for constantly changing horizons, whether we’re standing in a colony of gentoo penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula, or seeing the Bonneville Salt Flats fade in our rearview mirrors. It’s an endless loop of sunrises and sunsets, of nights spent under skies ablaze with stars. Tension trickles from our bodies, leaving us as light as dandelion seeds.

We thrive on adventure and share our successes and failures. We live at large, and the thrill of motorcycling together has inextricably linked our lives. There’s nothing better than sharing your life with someone. For me, that someone is Jason. 

Editor’s note: You’ve already seen some of Lisa’s and Jason’s work in the past few issues. Now that you’ve gotten to know them better, we’re happy to announce that you’ll get to follow more of their U.S. and international adventures in the future.