The end of the West Road

If you’ve ever looked for the inspiration to pack your bags and leave your job behind to go on an adventure of a lifetime then read on! Many of you will have followed the story of “The West Road” on our blog with Tom Bing and Sally McGee who turned away from their 9-5 lives in the UK to search out something more. Their plan was to fly to South America and ride 150cc dirt bikes, loaded with surfboards and pack, along the length of the Pan American Highway from Santiago Chile to California. When I heard about their trip it really struck a cord as an amazing leap of faith to turn away from job security to embrace an adventure into the unknown, following a dream of exploring, surfing and delving into new cultures. It takes courage to drop out of “normal” life for over a year to follow a dream so here at Northcore we were stoked to be able to support them in a small way and provide some kit for the trip which we knew would get a thorough testing!

It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to remain in regular contact with Tom and Sally as they rode and surfed their way North, being amazed, envious, in awe and inspired in equal measure by their journey. So now that they are both safely home and settling back into their new lives we’re pleased to be able to bring you an interview with Tom reflecting on his and Sally’s adventures.

Sally route planning

Sally route planning

What prompted you both to embark on this journey and why the Pan American Highway?

We were feeling like we were stuck in a rut at home, we both had ‘good jobs’ which allowed for a pretty comfortable lifestyle but when we dug a little deeper, we knew we weren’t living the life we knew we could be living. Sometimes it feels hard to make small changes in your lifestyle that actually stick, it’s easy to slip back into old ways and get distracted by the wrong things. Money has never been the most important thing in either of our lives; time is the commodity that makes us the most happy. We started to think about doing something to shake things up a bit and we started to think about a motorcycle trip and realised it seemed possible. We own a little flat we could rent out and come back to, our jobs had afforded us the luxury of buying a decent van we could sell to raise money for the trip and we had jobs that meant we could save hard quickly. Once you realise something like that is possible; you have to do it otherwise you will regret it for ever I think. We knew that after a trip like ours it would be impossible to fall into the same traps as the first time round, we would have to come back with a different approach to life after spending twelve months basically sleeping rough and living off very little.  

Tom and Sally and the 150cc dirt bikes

Tom and Sally and their 150cc dirt bikes

The America’s are an amazing travel resource, tens of thousands of kilometres of land with only one language, great food, great surf and plenty of quiet and rarely-explored places. It has it all, sometimes in one country, surf, beautiful beaches, great cities, deserts, mountains and plenty of wilderness. We knew people had done long bike trips in the Americas but we had never seen anybody do it South to North, on 150cc bikes or with surfboards attached to their motorcycle but we could work out how to put it all together. 

Did either of you have a goal to achieve by making the journey?
I guess we had a few goals, the hard work starts now though. I wanted to take my photography full-time or as close to full time as possible. One huge goal was to build a portfolio of work that nobody else in the North East has; a good friend and mentor of mine told me that you need to just keep doing what you love relentlessly until somebody starts to pay you for it. Don’t start with money, start with passion and the money will inevitably follow. We feel like we achieved a lot creatively but it’s no good just sat on hard drives in a drawer, now we have to get it out there to the world and potential clients.  
Camping in Chile

Camping in Chile

We wanted to really explore what is important to us as people; I don’t think we had as much to learn as perhaps we thought we did but we are now secure in the knowledge we are tight as hell with money and material possessions sometimes feel more of a burden than anything else. We feel a real sense of achievement living on the cheap which is good. Less overheads means less pressure to earn money. Sally has gone back to her old job but just three days a week; reassessing the work/life balance was definitely something we knew was an end goal.  
We know we can spend time without being constantly entertained; we were battling with the ease of technology and its part in our lives and we hope to continue to be techno-sceptics and not get sucked in. We wanted to learn more about nature, the ocean, surfing, culture, the world, food and everything else that makes life so amazing.
Pan American Highway

Pan American Highway

What was the one major highlight of the whole trip?
Honestly, as cheesy as it sounds, just spending time together away from everything. Sally and I are coming up to ten years together and its amazing to us both that we could spend 365 days together, day and night, often completely alone and isolated from other people and things and still we love just hanging out, talking, laughing, reminiscing, planning for the future. I loved seeing Sally score some of the best waves of her life, every time she got a good one and I saw it, it was the same rush as getting a good one myself. I loved watching her accomplish things and as weird as it sounds, I loved watching her struggle and then overcome stuff. We both grew so much as people but it’s easier to recognise it in the person you love and spend time with; I am so proud of what she achieved and I am proud of us as a couple; a team. 
Well…that and tacos.
Yeah, tacos!
Sally down the line in the tropics

Sally down the line in the tropics

 What was the lowest point of the whole trip?
We had a few, I would say nearly all of them were money related. We were pretty stupid to think we had enough money to do a trip like the one we did, we were wildly under prepared for it financially really. Stressing about money and watching the meagre savings account dwindle was the only source of friction we had really.  
I would say being stuck in Arica, Northern Chile for a month was a low point. We would camp on a beach with hundreds of other people who were living on the beach, it was sketchy and not a nice way to live really. Every few days we would check into a hostel for £25 a night to shower and sort ourselves out and then back to the beach. Four weeks of proper homelessness kinda sucks. We were waiting for bike documents to come through and the Chilean beauracratic system is a nightmare to navigate, especially when your Spanish is pretty basic. We got there in the end though and it made Peru even sweeter when we finally got in.
beach camping

beach camping

 Have you made friends that you’ll try to reconnect with in the future?
Absolutely, we met some amazing people right from the start of the trip. The first people who really helped us out were a bike-builder and his girlfriend from Santiago, Chile. We just spend four days hanging out with them in California. It was amazing to see them after they built our racks and waved us off goodbye 26,000km and twelve months ago. To think they had a whole year of normal life and then just a one day flight to meet us and it had taken us all that time and effort was crazy! 
We hope to have a few people to come and stay with us so we can laugh at them while they struggle to get into a 5mm suit in sideways rain in a car park in the North East one day, I have a feeling everyone we met would froth over catching a wave in the shadow of an ancient priory or castle though, even if they can’t feel their face.
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Friends made along the way

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Toasting life on the road with new friends

Which was your favourite country and your favourite wave?
Well that would be telling! We really don’t like crowds so we searched out spots that were less crowded and skipped the ones that were which could be frustrating, we saw waves that were perfect, paddled out for one session and then just left. We both love to surf point breaks, there is nothing better than a long period southern hemi breaking off a cobblestone point.  
Imagine a right hander that has a perfect wall, breakneck speed straight from the take off, over a hundred metres of speed, tube sections and huge open cut-back faces, steep little sections that make every little off the top into the best turn of your life. Now imagine that with 30’C water, 30’C air temperature, a hammock set up for $5 a night, fresh fruit and veg that comes on a truck every other day, a small crowd of nice people and the most beautiful back-drop that looks like Jurassic Park to look out over from the wave. That was heaven for us and its out there, somewhere.  
Peru and Mexico had some set-ups we loved surfing too with a great vibe and cheap living. 
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Would you recommend a similar journey to others?
Whole heartedly, if you can do it, do it. You will experience so much, learn so much, meet great people and grow as a person more than you can imagine. It’s tough coming home but as long as you plan for that its so worthwhile. Motorcycles are dangerous, in the time we did our trip two good friends have had really bad accidents on the road (get well soon Sami and Simon), there wasn’t a day that went by that we weren’t in some sort of terrified awe of our bikes, even though they were only 150CC but I think thats a healthy relationship to have with motorbikes. They gave us an experience that no car ever could. 
Beach bikes

Beach bikes

Atacama Desert

Atacama Desert

What are your plans now you’re back in the UK?
I’ve just moved into a little studio with two of the most talented artists in Newcastle, Ryan Quickfall and Ash Willerton. I’ll be up there most days I’m not shooting or surfing working on projects and building a client list for my photography and video work. I have a feeling this winter is going to be a good one, I really want to shoot with Alex Tatko and Sandy Kerr more, as well as other local rippers like Louis Hudson, Danny Allott, Matty Dunn, Sally McGee and my other good mates up here and around UK and Ireland. We have never really spent much time in the South West but there are a few surfers I would like to shoot with so hopefully we can work something out with a few surf brands to get down and work on some new projects.  
I am an SAS rep for Tynemouth and I love to get involved with our great little community up here. We inherited an allotment from our good friend Matt Ayre from Polymath Surfcraft that we will be working hard on with the hope to turn into a super productive little veg patch that should hopefully make up a good part of our diets next year.Also we are just getting samples back from a line of fine art prints we are going to start selling in galleries and online soon that we are really excited about. Right now, we are trying to secure funding for a couple of exhibitions we have planned and we would love to get our work out across the UK and further. We have more plans than we do time but we have more time than we did before the trip so we are feeling really positive.
Tom and Sally

Tom and Sally

Check out soon for a new webstore!
and follow @Northcore_surf on social media for more updates on a possible book, film and exhibition of the journey.

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