Mexico by Boat, Europe by Motorcycle
One Boat, One Bike, and Two Books to Cherish it All
By Kristina Kulyabina
Spontaneity is one of the most valuable traits a traveler can possesses for extraordinary adventures. Sometimes a step-by-step plan translates into a boring and dull agenda, without any opportunity for exploration. Travelers and authors of Two Butts On a Bike Christie and Rick Gorsline, however, embrace the meaning of impulsiveness with a true “get up and go” attitude.
Before deciding to explore Europe for four months on a single motorcycle, the couple set sail in 1993 when their two daughters left for college and hence the first novel written by Christie came about as From Empty Nest to Life Vest: Plotting a New Course.
While Rick worked in the retail automobile business, Christie took on roles in motherhood, advertising, and teaching – English and journalism. “It was the absence of a possible retirement check and a dissatisfaction with the work that led us to abandon suburbia in 1993 and move aboard a 37′ sailboat,” says Christie.
“We lived aboard in Long Beach, California for two years, then sold the cars, cancelled health insurance, stowed the dock lines and took off sailing.”
Christie, 65, is currently a freelance journalist and essayist with chin-length blond hair and soft facial features highlighted by a perfect smile. She adores family and a game of golf or two with Rick, who hides behind a pair of eyeglasses or sunglasses depending on the day, with a head of salt and pepper hair.
“The most important aspect of what makes our travels work is that we’re best friends. We trust each other and we forgive each other, too,” says Christie, regarding each other’s personalities.
“Rick isn’t afraid to take risks – I’ve had to learn that trait. He comes up with all the crazy ideas but I have the final word. When I decide I like one of his ideas he knows he is in trouble… we do it!”
Initially, the plan was to sail around the world, but both Christie and Rick were not highly experienced sailors and they had an old boat on their hands when leaving on a mid-fall day in San Diego. Since sailing requires following wind and weather patterns, the couple allowed the boat, Nanook, to navigate them along their oceanic journey for six years. Cruising around the outskirts of Mexico, these adventure seekers slept in a space smaller than a master closet and ate freshly caught seafood for dinner.
Living off the West Coast of Mexico
“We explored the beauty and bounty of Mexico. Without refrigeration, we ate lots of fish. We snorkeled for clams and lobsters. We watched a whale being born off the stern of the boat, saw hundreds of dolphins and the green flash at sunset,” says Rick. “We had a close call with a freighter and a closer encounter with a hurricane, prophetically named ‘Rick.’”
The couple went ashore often when they were anchored in a bay that had bus service to town. They ultimately spent four years traveling south to Zihuatanejo and north into the Sea of Cortez. Luckily, no one ever got seasick but each one of them took a ‘medicine at sea’ course pre-departure that included information on using an oar as a splint to brace a broken bone as well as way to stop bleeding.
After spending approximately $15,000 per year on this sailing escapade, Christie says this overall experience helped her “relax and roll with the rhythm of life.”
“I shoved self-doubt overboard,” she says confidently. Rick got used to the luxurious lifestyle of not having to work six days a week. “I learned that it’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Do it anyway and you’ll figure it out,” he says.
From boat to bike
After exploring Mexico through the unique approach of sailing, Christie and Rick realized that traveling by boat limited their potential destinations. While in Mexico, they encountered a younger couple that sailed in Mexico in the winter and kept a motorcycle in Europe in the summer. Suddenly, the idea was born.
“We had very little money then and couldn’t afford two dreams at a time but we liked the plan. We sold Nanook in Seattle, bought an Airstream trailer, pick-up truck, and a BMWR1100GS to put in the back of the truck,” says Rick.
Although they have been to Europe before, it was only a brief trip that didn’t consist of much exploring. Both of them worked in Tuscon, Arizona for six months in order to finance a four-month journey across Europe strictly by bike. Just as they weren’t exactly sailors before setting sail, Christie says they weren’t necessarily motorcycle folks either.
“We bought the bike in Portland, OR just for this trip. Installed a taller windshield and Jesse saddlebags. We bought used camping gear and like the sailing trip – prepared as well as we could,” she says.
Ultimately, traveling by bike was most likely the cheapest route of transportation compared to rail or car travel in Europe. “With your own transportation you have the luxury of choosing where to stay when you see it. That’s hard to do from a train station,” says Rick.
“Being on a motorcycle, we got off and explored more often than we might have in a car. We were part of a fraternity on the road and were given travel advice by fellow riders. Smelling the air and being so intimately involved in the environment made the whole trip more vital and personal.”
In 120 days Christie and Rick stayed in 60 places: 52 nights in pensions or inns, 44 in the tent, 17 in a camping cabin, 6 on a ferry or with someone they met along the road. During this time, they visited England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Ferry, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Andorra, and France.
Christie’s most memorable scenes consisted of the Irish roads, mist, and music in the countryside of Ireland. The best mountain pass was Susten Pass in the Swiss Alps. The Czech Republic was also a favorite for scenery, variety, and low cost. Christie says her least favorite afternoon was in the Fussen Germany castles due too many American tourists.
“We explored the back roads and small towns of 18 European countries from an outdoor seat. You just see more that way. You feel the air. A long trip requires haircuts, eye glasses repair and the possibility of a dentist emergency, although we didn’t have one in Europe – we did in Mexico,” says Rick.
“You can’t help but stop being a tourist when the trip is long and slow. When you go to more grocery stores than museums you’re interacting differently.”
“Like eating chips – once you’ve opened the package, or the world map in this case, it’s hard to stop,” says Christie. And I really believe that those who travel have a more reasonable worldview. It’s harder to be an arrogant American when you’ve seen the beauty and values of lives in a variety of other cultures.”
While Christie recorded most of the sailing trip on her own in order to write her book From Empty Nest to Life Vest: Plotting a New Course, both Rick and Christie noted key details and events during the cycle trip to compose a he-said-she said piece about the journey.
Two Butts on A Bike: 4 Months, 18 Countries, 12.074 Miles displays not only the adventurous travels across Europe, but also a true friendship between husband and wife. The book illustrates the overall concept that you don’t need to be an expert in order to do something.
“Empty Nest is, in my view, a permission slip to do something you have no idea how to do. To not let fear or inexperience stop you. It’s also a love affair with Mexico,” says Christie. “Two Butts is a tour of Europe written from both the male and female perspectives. It, too, is a tale of inexperienced people, out there in the world, doing their best to explore.”
Kristina Kulyabina is a former editorial assistant at GoNOMAD.com. She also blogs for Let’s Go, a student travel guide. She is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Western Mass. Kristina attended UMass Amherst for a B.A. in journalism and an international relations certificate.
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