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The Journey


June 1999

I can't believe it! It can't possibly be two years since I embarked on my journey. Surely the calendar is wrong. I'm traveling fast, I'm writing fast, I'm meeting people fast, I'm learning fast, I am doing everything fast but I'm still just halfway around. Nevertheless, five continents have been visited.

You know by now, my life has been overloaded and full of interesting things since I have been on the road. My rainbow has been created of all colors. Not only have I been following the sun but, I've occasionally lost it amongst the storms. Life has been nice and hard. It's been sad and happy. I've had as many new adventures this year as I did in the first. I want to tell you about some of them and I dedicate this newsletter to all of you who still care.

Red Boyfriend's odometer shows 75,000 km. He has been keeping me safe and comfortable. I've changed his tires and chains and a few other things since I started. Everybody needs attention. My motorcycle is no different. Though I had always expected it, after all this time I can tell you for sure, this motorcycle has been worth my trust. It seems like the right thing for me to complete this demanding trip.

Achieving, Learning, and Having Fun...
Yahoo! My greatest achievement so far was landing on Antarctica, of course. It was one of the very few times so far when I was nervous about all the little details. "How are we going to bring the bike on shore? How and where we will land? How many penguins I will disturb with this crazy attempt? How will the motorcycle will climb over glacial rock, etc?" The experience ended after a day and only a very short distance ridden. The penguins had fun. And so did I. To remember the event I bought a stuffed penguin and named it BMW.

I want to show my deepest gratitude for all your letters and support. The Chain Gang, a club of F650 enthusiasts from the USA deserves a special one. While convalescing in a hospital in Ecuador, I learned that they were selling T-shirts saying "Benka Went to Antarctica and All I Got Was This Damn T-shirt." To collect much needed donations for my voyage to icy continent. It was a wonderful tribute that brightened my life and sped up the recuperation of my spirit.

Despite extremely frugal and careful spending, my crash from the horse made me feel as if I was at the rock bottom of my budget. There I was, in trouble, and people I do not even know fund my risky attempt at a world record. It was amazing that they were willing to help.

In Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia I learned how to play my third instrument. Pan flute. I always wanted to be Zamfir one day. In the meantime, I hope I haven't forgotten how to play guitar or piano, as neither can fit on my bike. In the last year I have improved my Spanish to the level that I can converse fluently. Last year in Venezuela I flew an airplane, a Cessna 182, for the first time. In Argentina I drove 60 ft long truck. Yes, it was different from the motorcycle but a lot of fun! I drove 1000 km with that huge steering wheel and I will never forget it.

Among these great things I should tell you about a less great one. One I am happy to have survived. The Colombian - Ecuador border. I barely managed to escape after bribing border officials to let me cross into Ecuador. First I trusted a local guy who said he could get me through the border. Then flat tires. I had to trust someone to do a job I usually do myself, repairing my tires after more than 30 punctures from nails and pins. It seems the locals seeded the ground with things like this to protest some injustices by the local government. When night arrived, and my paperwork was cleared and it was "safe" to escape there was more trouble. I was forced again to pay the locals to find me a steep and narrow path that led to the other side to Ecuador. Just then I learned that the tire craftsman forgot to place the brakes back on the disks. For that night the only way I could have stopped would have been to jump of the bike. I survived "only" 12 riding hours without the brakes in wild traffic. When the scary adventure was over I started to think how to get the parts and repair the damage. After that it all was easy. Since I was still alive...

My International Press Card was the ticket to get me the trip into Ecuadorian jungle, to the Galapagos Islands, bungee jumping and river surfing, and some canyoning. The membership I pay to the International Federation of Journalists is the best investment I've done. It has been very rewarding. Primarily in the amount of work I have found. And yes, it has pushed me to work more and harder then I would without it.

I earned a bunch of stitches into my forehead from the horseback riding experience in Ecuador. I was unconscious for a short while, hurt my back, messed up my face, was hospitalized for 10 days, and was unable to ride a month. Got pretty upset when my insurance company offered me a ticket. I was not just going to return home because I cracked my head. I came too far for that. This side of the planet has doctors, too. I only became more determined not to give in. Maybe some other time, when times get even rougher. But not now...

I liberated myself from my bike for a carnival. Could not pass on this one. The world's biggest carnival in Salvador deserved that. It was the best party time I have ever had. Brazilians truly know how to overdo it dancing. Great stuff!

Some of the South American roads were tolerable. The rest are terrible, mostly in poor condition. Too many potholes, animals and broken cars, drunk, aggressive and arrogant drivers on the road. I got tired of being constantly on the lookout for disaster. Leaving South America after a year was a relief. Beside the traffic, a couple of males made my life miserable for a while. Especially when I didn't hold my helmet or stay close to my motorcycle. I expected to be treated like a human but too many times I was just a woman. Fortunately those rare occasions did not ruin the great memories of friendly South America. At the end I packed my motorcycle on the plane for in front of us at that point lay a magnificent country between the Pacific and Tasmanian Sea.

Educational fun is contagious. I caught the fever. I found time to pick up juggling, a wonderful way to pass lovely time while enjoying the beauty of New Zealand.

Riding along Ninety Mile Beach on the west coast of the Northern Island was extraordinary. And for sure the best motorcycling ride I've ever had in my life. The only way to access it is to ride up the river before you reach it. Up and down the river was just a part of great, wet fun.

My most recent joy was borne of trouble. Not surprisingly, as I always try to find the silver lining of every gray cloud. It happened in New Zealand when my computer got a virus (explaining my two-month absence). Because my nerves unraveled faster than I was able to process, I had to buy some wool to ease them. After 10 years I returned to my considerable love of knitting. The guy I met skydiving, Vince, worked on my computer for 14 days. I was sitting with him as we worked through the virus. I prefer knitting to pulling my hair out. That's how I celebrated my first birthday in the fall, holding the mug of hot chocolate, remember, reversed seasons below the equator.

In the meantime my computer is up and working and my skydiving/computer companion is hibernating during the New Zealand winter in a new sweater. Final work was done in San Antonio, Texas while my web master and some other helpful experts put my laptop in perfect shape again. I cannot thank them enough...

After a too-short three months in New Zealand I contacted my organization for transportation of my motorcycle to Australia. They didn't let me clear the customs myself. As I had feared, everything went wrong. They lost the Carnet d' Passage, the equivalent to a motorcycle passport. The agony is ongoing, but because Australian customs were so understanding my red boyfriend is all right in Australia where we'll be reunited in a couple of weeks and travel around until the new millennium comes.

The Work
I've learned a big lesson about honesty. There was a lot of press agreeable to my idea before I took off. Too many of the editors turned out to be disingenuous. They changed their tune as soon as I rode out of their sight. Cooperation by long distance is very hard especially when people are irresponsible and insincere.

My obligations to the sponsors have always been and still dictate my respect to follow through on what I promise. Despite the promise, getting the editors to acknowledge the sponsors in the media is very difficult. They do not respect our agreement. From that I've gotten a lot of headaches. Even though I work hard and for free, they don't even publish the sponsors who would make me forget faster, all the money that they owed me... Well, so far it's "just" $10,000. missing dollars... Here I am by myself, with my obligations toward those who have stood behind me, and lonely. Endless nights I calculated in front of the fire beside the tent rather than relaxing with hot tea, how much money they have shorted me... Yes, there have been a lot of tears on this trip, too. Unfortunately many of those offered a hand, but soon forgot their offers.

Though everything is not so dark. The excellently organized network of the most listened-to Slovenian radio stations has worked very well. All with the great support and organization of radio HIT from Domzale. All of those guys are truly traveling with me. They told me if I don't give up, they wouldn't either. Their good results over the radio has translated into thousands of emails. From the beginning of the trip I prepared radio reports. And now, there have been a 100 hours of reports from my trip, with ten hours just for the promotion of my sponsors. Working with Slovene radio has become my most important connection with my homeland. I'm very happy with those results and the tremendously positive feedback from the public has validated my good work.

In the last two years there have been over 140 articles published about me and my trip in print media, throughout the world. I have gotten attention on television and radio while visiting most places. I was featured in Cycle World, the biggest cycling magazine in the world, and on the cover page of the biggest South American daily, La Nacion in Argentina. My BMW boyfriend has been featured in BMW Owners News, Women on Wheels, Chain Gang, Cybercycle Mag, The Motorcyclist's Post, New Zealand's Kiwi Rider and Flying Pig the biggest parachuting magazine in the world, The Parachutist, and reputable Italian sport magazines, No Limits, also Delo, and Nedelo, Avtomagazin and many others. It would be easier to write where we haven't appeared so far.

The dark moments of my trip have been mainly connected with the death of two computers, many camera repairs and expensive parts for other precision technical equipment. I don't even want to think of the expenses and troubles of the 20,000 slides taken and ruined by inept processors, lost, damaged or destroyed rolls and rolls of film. I also felt a lot of anger and sadness compliments of my computer provider. Ipass Slovenia has made my life really miserable with their constant unreliability.

The Plans
I am back to the United States. In the meantime while my Red Boyfriend is waiting in Australia I am happy with another BMW F650 from BMW Denver transporting me while I am here. I returned for a couple of presentations about my journey at the MOA BMW Rally and in San Antonio, TX. I was invited to give a lecture at the World Conference of Adventuring being held in Tucson, Arizona. After half a year in Australia I'm going to cross into Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. From there I will reach India and probably be forced to bypass China, as they want $20,000 (US) just to enter the country. Then India and the Middle East. It looks like the southern part of Africa looks safe from the distance. I need to make it to Egypt and from there ride toward Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Greece, and across part of the Old Yugoslavia, back to my home nest. It should happen after about 100,000 more km somewhere between the years 2001 and 2002. I believe, but please do not rely on it.

Until then, please think about me. You can't even imagine how much it means when I need information and I have to wait weeks or months for a response. For me, every day's connection with Internet is far away for I have to find a way to log on as opposed to clicking a button from an office or home computer.

As I mentioned before, all accidents, computers, cameras and equipment, other sad things have started to eat away at my bank account. Things are drier and drier. Thanks to all those friends and the others that are ready and willing to fill up a gas tank for one day or two. I will be riding for you, too.

It's all downhill from here! I'm halfway around the globe, heading for home. Chain Gang is going to give a T-shirt for free everyone who donates 25 dollars or more, on which is a photo of my BMW and its owner. For more information, check out www.F650.com. I think about you. I may be far away but you're always in my mind.

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